PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Earlier this year, the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission was under fire due to allegations that leaders abused their power to obtain highly sought-after spirits.
Now, the agency is expanding its liquor lottery so more residents can have access to rare booze — as long as they’re over 21.
According to a policy and procedures document from the OLCC, Executive Director Craig Prins approved new guidelines for the agency’s chance-to-purchase program on Nov. 9.
Since 2018, the chance-to-purchase program has given Oregonians the opportunity to purchase prized alcohol through a raffle system. OLCC’s Distilled Spirits Division determines which products are entered in the raffle based on popularity, scarcity and variety. Some “common stock” items are also included if they’re hard to find in liquor stores.
In 2022, more than 41,000 Oregonians entered for a chance to purchase the rare spirits in just two different drawings throughout the year.
Starting next year, the liquor drawings will be held once per quarter. OLCC officials are prohibited from participating in the program.
“An outside contractor is the long-term goal to conduct the Chance to Purchase drawings to help ensure transparency,” agency spokesperson Matthew Van Sickle added in an email to KOIN 6. “In the short term, until such an arrangement can be procured, we will be conducting this internally with an audit function performed with a representative of another state agency.”
The new program guidelines come nine months after OLCC was at the center of a nationally-recognized scandal.
In February, an internal investigation revealed that former Executive Director Steve Marks and five other agency leaders were withholding rare bourbons — such as a 23-year-old bottle of Pappy Van Winkle’s — for personal use.
According to previous reports, the officials used their connections to obtain and buy the products — despite an Oregon statute that bans public employees from using confidential information for personal gain.
Marks followed up with a resignation, but he denied violating any ethics laws or re-selling the rare bourbon that’s worth thousands of dollars in some cases. However, he did admit to receiving some form of preferential treatment.
Former OLCC Chair Paul Rosenbaum stepped down from his role as well.
Agency officials said the U.S. Department of Justice and the Oregon Ethics Commission are conducting the criminal and ethics investigations.