Nevada gambling addiction programs face cuts

@CNNMoney May 24, 2011: 3:51 PM ET
Nevada is cutting funding for gambling addiction programs.

Nevada is cutting funding for gambling addiction programs.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Nevada's problem gambling prevention efforts are being dealt a losing hand.

Contending with a billion-dollar budget shortfall, state officials are on the verge of cutting the funding source for gambling addiction services in half. And problem gambling experts fear the consequences.

Nevada currently funds problem gambling programs through taxes on slot machines. Since 2005, $2 of the taxes on each machine has flowed into a special fund dedicated to problem gambling, which supports both treatment and prevention services.

The state's proposed budget, which is close to being passed, would halve that for the next two years.

This wouldn't be the first time Nevada officials have raided the problem gambling account to balance the budget. Last spring, the legislature siphoned $850,000 from the fund to plug a shortfall. That left only about $448,000, which was used exclusively for gambling addiction treatment. Funding for prevention and training was cut entirely.

Addiction treatment programs are expected to receive an allotment of roughly $654,000 this year, thanks to the $1 fee, said Laurie Olson, who administers gambling grants for the state. While that is more than the slashed budget from last year, it's still below previous years' levels.

But prevention and training services, which received $384,000 two years ago, are once again being left out in the cold.

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"It's fairly short-sighted from a public policy perspective," said Tim Christensen, president of the Association of Problem Gambling Service Administrators. "It will cost more money in the future to make up lost ground and public awareness."

The absence of state funding means the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling had to scrap a proposed $150,000 media campaign to promote the national gambling addiction help line, 800-522-4700.

Also, the non-profit organization now must seek alternate funds to subsidize the cost of sending brochures to treatment centers and community agencies. And it has had to scale back its training of addiction counselors.

With the economy in Nevada still rocky, this is not the time to rein in problem gambling services, said Carol O'Hare, the council's executive director.

"When your addiction is tied to money and the biggest stress is the economy, your addiction may progress more rapidly," O'Hare said.

Nevada officials recognize that gambling addiction remains a problem, but said they had few choices.

"We're concerned, but there isn't enough revenue to go around," said Mike Willden, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services. "Every budget in the state of Nevada has taken a reduction.

Nevada is not the only place cutting back its gambling addiction resources. Other states where legislatures have the power to change the funding levels are also reducing support, Christensen said. (In many states, problem gambling services are directly tied to the legislation authorizing gambling, which makes it harder to decrease funding.)

Gambling addiction services should be supported by states where such activities are sanctioned, advocates said.

"If the state has legalized gambling, it has an even higher obligation to help prevent and treat gambling problems," said Keith Whyte, executive director for the National Council on Problem Gambling.

Correction: An earlier version of this story included incorrect numbers for previous funding levels, and expected funding for addiction treatment in the upcoming year.  To top of page

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