Lane County resident Jack Roberts, who bowed out as executive director of the Lane Metro Partnership at the end of September, might not be out of a job in the public eye for long.
The former Lane County commissioner and state labor commissioner has been chosen by Gov. John Kitzhaber to lead the Oregon Lottery, Kitzhaber’s spokesman Tim Raphael and Roberts both confirmed Friday. If confirmed by the state Senate in late November, Roberts would replace current director Larry Niswender, who publicly announced his retirement on Monday.
The Willamette Week newspaper in Portland first reported Kitzhaber’s selection of Roberts.
Roberts said Friday he’s known that he might be considered for the opening “for several weeks,” but said it had no bearing on his decision to resign from Lane Metro, the regional economic development agency funded by Lane County, Springfield and Eugene that has been mirred in controversy this year. Roberts said it became apparent that Springfield and Lane County government leaders, in particular, wanted him gone as the agency’s director.
Kitzhaber’s spokesman Raphael didn’t provide any explanation of the choice of Roberts, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2006. Niswender’s annual salary was $171,000, but Raphael said Roberts’ starting salary has not been determined yet.
Roberts, who says he doesn’t like the concept of state-run gambling “in principle,” said he wasn’t initially interested in the lottery job, but changed his mind after learning more about some the issues the agency is facing.
The lottery is a key source of revenue for the state, generating $500 million a year, money the state allocates for schools, economic development, state parks and capital construction projects.
But agency revenues are stagnant and the population that plays on video slot and poker machines is aging, Roberts said, which presents a challenge for the agency because the state depends on its revenues.
“An ideal tax system wouldn’t rely on gambling revenue,” he said. “But Oregon is so far from an ideal tax system.”
Roberts said his role will center on attracting new people to lottery games, “without adding to the issues around problem gambling.” Lottery officials faced criticism as recently as 2011 for attempting to create new online games that some saw as clearly targeted at younger people. The agency ultimately shelved the games.
The top lottery job requires political tact, Roberts said, which includes talking to frustrated business owners and residents in areas where lottery machines and the clients they draw have become ubiquitous.
After leaving Lane Metro, Roberts, an attorney, also expressed interest in several open positions on the Oregon Court of Appeals, but wasn’t selected.
Roberts plans to continue living in Lane County and commute daily to the lottery office in Salem.