Yea, though I walk through the valley of the Lotto Lizards

You gotta love a state that preys on the weaknesses of the drunk and the downtrodden to pay for its roads and schools.

That's what I was thinking one night in Omar's last week as I watched a woman who looked to be in her 70s shove $20 bills into an Oregon Lottery video poker machine.

One after another after another, the machine slurped up the twenties.

For all I know the old girl won big earlier that night and was just letting it ride until the state took it all back, as it inevitably does. Could be she just broke even and called it a night and went home thinking about all that could've been.

The look on her face as she left did not bear that out, though. I don't think a lot of winning went down in Omar's at any point that night.

A quick glance at the numbers leads me to believe no one ever wins. According to Oregon Lottery officials, video machines generated $728.8 million in revenue for Beaverland last year. Scratch-it tickets logged in a distant second with $127.1 million in blood money.

Drunks and aging Lotto Lizards, as I now call them, make excellent cash cows it seems.

It would've been depressing watching gramma empty her bank account, but I suddenly was able to see video gambling in a new light.

What if it is actually fun to nurse a rum and Coke in a smokey bar while throwing away the money you sell your body and soul for in eight-hour increments each day?

I hit up an ATM for $20, grabbed my pint of Pabst and adopted yet another vice for the evening.

The system is broken down into slot machine-type games and strange variations on poker. I was surprised by how complicated and surreal many of the games were.

Dig the titles of the slot games: "Enchanted Unicorn"; "Damn Lumberjack Beavers"; "Lucky Luigi's Pizzeria" etc.

Can you imagine winning $250 one night and cornering one of your co-workers the next day to brag, "Yo, man, I totally rocked 'Dam Lumberjack Beavers' for like 250 big ones last night!" I soon became frustrated with the slots, as it wasn't good enough to line up the same fruit, unicorn, fairy, black cat, beaver, buzzsaw or whatnot. Oh no. Some of the games required configuring the shapes into weird patterns connected by neon purple lines, such as "Hexbreaker." All I know is that I was $20 poorer really damn quickly. Scarily quickly.

I moved on to the poker games, but not before asking the Lotto Lizard at the machine next to me what game pays the best.

Thirty minutes later, after he'd finished a rambling, confused diatribe about how all these damn machines never pay nothin' and that government is laughing at him over it, I learned that Flush Fever was my best bet.

The game's pretty simple: You play five cards hoping to make a flush. Once the flush is achieved you go into this bonus mode where the winnings double for seven hands.

At least that's what I think happened.

I don't quite remember anything after hitting my first flush. The bonus round sent me onto this powerful capitalistic acid trip.

I kept hitting flush after flush, watching my credits (and bank account) increase with each sweaty push of the "Draw" button.

This was how true empowerment feels, I thought. I never want to leave this place.

You know the rest of the story. I lost it all by midnight.

Turned out it wasn't all that much to begin with. I turned my $20 in $40 and my $40 into nothing.

Maybe my pathetic $20 helped fill a pothole in Roseburg. Or bought a book in some Portland elementary school.

Either way, I returned to the bar feeling like someone in Salem was laughing at me.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail

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