First time proposal to help problem gamblers before Legislature

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Rebecca Oddieo deals a game of blackjack at the Carson Station on Thursday morning. Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn has proposed the state spend $200,000 to create a problem gambling center.

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Rebecca Oddieo deals a game of blackjack at the Carson Station on Thursday morning. Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn has proposed the state spend $200,000 to create a problem gambling center.

Compulsive gambler Linda C. finally sought help after she came home from a devastating night at a Las Vegas casino and, staring at two handguns on her kitchen counter, contemplated suicide. She didn't want to die - but she didn't want to live, either.

Nine years later, she's hopeful about a proposal from Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn to use $200,000 in state money over the next two years to help create a problem gambling program. The funding would mark the first time the state has put any money toward helping people addicted to gambling. Guinn also hopes to get at least $200,000 in matching funds from the casino industry over the same period.

"I think it's highly needed," said Linda, 57, who spoke on the condition her last name not be used. "But, personally, $200,000 is just a joke."

Linda, now a peer counselor for compulsive gamblers in Las Vegas, isn't alone in lauding the proposal while chastising the state for waiting so long to offer so little. Other states with far less in casino revenues and a shorter history of legalized gambling, contribute much more to fight problem gambling.

Arnie Wexler, a recovering compulsive gambler who lives in New Jersey, said the money is a long time coming in Nevada.

"I think the amount is not a big deal but this is a wonderful start and I commend the governor for doing what he's doing," said Wexler, who conducts responsible gambling workshops and training for casino workers.

Greg Bortolin, Guinn's spokesman, said the governor thinks the state needs to take responsibility for problem gambling.

"I think symbolically this is the first time the state has ever made a commitment," Bortolin said. "It's a good first step. What we're doing is encouraging the industry to step up and do the right thing."

The Nevada gambling industry already contributes the bulk of the money that goes to problem gambling "hands down," said Carol O'Hare, executive director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling. The council runs a hot line and conducts awareness campaigns.

Mike Willden, director of the state's Department of Human Resources, estimates the industry contributes nearly $1 million to O'Hare's council and a problem gambling center run by Dr. Rob Hunter in Las Vegas.

Meetings are taking place with casino industry officials, who might be willing to contribute up to $2 million to the combat problem gambling, Willden said.

"Harrah's is committed to responsible gaming, and we're going to do what we can to help the governor make his proposal a reality," said David Strow, a Harrah's Entertainment spokesman.

Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs for MGM Mirage, said the money is long overdue.

Feldman said it's appalling the state hasn't put up funding before and called the amount small, especially compared with the $1.83 billion the state expects to collect over the next two years from gambling and live entertainment taxes.

Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, said the state needs to be responsible for funding the program.

"The problem is a lot greater than people say," Townsend said. "It's part of the overall scope of mental health that includes all kinds of addictive behaviors."

Townsend and Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, are among lawmakers proposing legislation to ensure the state budgets enough money to fund training for counselors and contracts with treatment facilities.

O'Hare said she thinks Guinn knows the money he's proposing isn't enough, but by acknowledging the issue he will "open the door now for there to be a building process. It brings all the players together."

While all states except Utah and Hawaii have some form of legalized gambling, just 17 provide funding for problem gambling programs, according to Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Nationally, 82 percent of people have gambled in the past year, said Christine Reilly, executive director of the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders. She said 1 percent to 2 percent are pathological gamblers and up to 4 percent have a less severe problem.

Willden said there are nearly 100,000 people in Nevada, or 6.4 percent, with some level of gambling problems.

Of the 11 states with commercial casinos, Nevada casinos make by far the most revenue, at $10.56 billion for calendar year 2004, but the state is outdistanced by other states with far less revenue in its contributions to problem gambling programs from the state.

New Jersey is a distant second to Nevada with $4.49 billion in casino revenues, according to the American Gaming Association's 2003 statistics. But Edward Looney, executive director of the New Jersey Council on Problem Gambling, said the state gives at least $600,000 to problem gambling programs each year through a casino revenue fund.

"Really the responsibility should come from the government more than individual casinos," Looney said.

Galen Schum, executive director of field services for the Office for Addictive Disorders in Louisiana, said the state passed a law in the mid-1990s that requires up to $2 million in industry taxes go to a compulsive gambling fund. Louisiana was fifth in casino gambling revenue in 2003, at $2.02 billion.

In Mississippi, the state gaming commission contributes $100,000 a year from penalties levied against casinos, said Betty Greer, executive director of the state's Council on Problem and Compulsive Gambling. In 2003 Mississippi casinos made $2.7 billion, the third most in the nation.

Indiana, which in 2003 had casino gambling revenues of $2.23 billion, the fourth highest in the nation, gets about $200,000 each year from the state for help-line and training programs, said Jan Browdowski, executive administrator of the Indiana Council on Problem Gambling.

States with clear-cut formulas are a lot better off than Nevada and Colorado, which have no mandated system for support, O'Hare said. Still, any funding is a help.

"It's never too late for the problem gambler who will be the first to benefit from the new funds," she said.


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