A national expert on Thursday urged Kansas officials to spend more on programs for treating people who are addicted to gambling.
Most of the money Kansas currently spends combating addictions is for drug and alcohol abuse programs, though the funds from the programs come from profits at the three state-owned casinos.
Keith Whyte, executive director at the National Council on Problem Gaming, said many people assumed all or most of those casino dollars would be used to treat gamblers.
“This money needs to go where most people thought it was going to go,” he said during a Wednesday press conference staged by the Kansas Coalition on Problem Gaming and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.
The event was meant to call attention to National Problem Gambling Awareness Week.
Whyte later spoke to the Senate Ways and Means Committee and at a coalition-sponsored forum at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.
Under current Kansas law, 2 percent of the net revenue generated at the Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane, Boot Hill Casino in Dodge City, and Hollywood Casino in Kansas City, Kan., is earmarked for programs and services for people with addictive behaviors: alcoholism, drug abuse, and problem gambling.
Net revenue is defined as the slot-machine and table-game income minus payouts.
The 2 percent assessment, Whyte said, is among the highest in the nation, but the amount the state spends on problem gambling treatment is among the lowest. Only three states – Tennessee, Colorado, and Maryland – spend less, he said.
The fund is expected to total almost $7.3 million in the current budget year and $7.8 million in fiscal year 2014, which begins July 1.
Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration has proposed spending 83 percent on Medicaid-funded substance abuse programs. Another 6 percent would go to community corrections programs.
Various problem gambling programs would share the remaining 11 percent - $868,000 - in fiscal 2014. These programs include the operation of a toll-free hotline for problem gamblers (1-800-522-4700), prevention campaigns, and access to gambling addiction counselors.
Whyte said he and other advocates were “dismayed” so little money was reaching problem gambling programs.
It’s unethical, he said, for the state to own casinos and encourage people to buy lottery tickets while, at the same time, spending less than $1 million on problem gambling.
“The average debt of someone who enters treatment for a gambling addiction,” Whyte said, “is twice their average annual income.”
A recent Gambler’s Anonymous survey, found that 70 percent of those participating in the program had admitted to committing white-collar crimes to finance their addictions.
Whyte asked members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee to consider spending half of the $7.8 million addiction fund on problem gambling.
During the press conference, Angela Hagen, director of behavioral health at KDADS, said the department had found enough money in its budget to recommend $868,000 a year for problem gambling programs through fiscal 2015, which would be about $128,000 more per year than approved by the Legislature for the current fiscal year.
“I’m very excited to announce that today,” Hagen said.
Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican and chair of the Senate budget committee, said he thought the problem gambling programs’ concerns about too little funding had been addressed by the administration.
The committee’s vice chair, Sen. Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, said the programs’ needs were difficult to measure because there wasn’t a waiting list for services.
“As far as I can tell, everybody who wants services can get them,” he said.
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