Kentucky needs state-backed problem gambling fund, advocates say

Posted on: October 2, 2022, 04:13.

Last updated: 10/2/2022 06:29.

Responsible gambling advocates met with Kentucky lawmakers in Frankfurt last week. They urged them to provide public funding for addiction and problem gambling treatment programs and awareness-raising programs.

Kentucky Problem Gambling
Kentucky Senator Donald Douglas (center) speaks on problem gambling and addiction services at a legislative hearing in Frankfurt on Thursday. Responsible gaming advocates are calling for a state program with earmarked funding to raise awareness of the gambling problem. But Douglas and other lawmakers don’t think it’s necessary. (Photo: Kentucky Legislative Research Council/YouTube)

Mike Stone, executive director of the Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling (KYCPG), spoke with members of the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupational and Administrative Regulation on Thursday. He told them that studies have shown that as many as 64,000 Kentuckians are addicted to gambling and another 165,000 exhibit gambling problems.

That number is growing, he said. Lexington’s Gambler Anonymous (GA) phone list has doubled over the past two years, and calls and texts to the 1-800-GAMBLER hotline have also shown a significant increase.

This growth has also been accompanied by a significant increase in the number of slot machine-like Historic Horse Racing Machines (HHRs) in the state. In June, Kentucky saw 5,569 HHR machines in operation, with hundreds more coming online since then. That’s nearly double the 2,829 orbital machines in operation in June 2019.

While Kentucky is often associated with horse racing, other forms of legal gambling are prevalent across the state. Stone showed the committee a map of charitable bingo and lottery retailers, with points for all parts of the state. He and other advocates also point to the rise of unregulated skill machines across the state, which they see as gambling.

Stone also showed two other maps showing the locations of seven active certified gambling advisors and a paltry number of regular GA meetings in Kentucky and surrounding states. In Kentucky, the GA map shows that most meetings take place within the state’s “Golden Triangle,” the population centers of Louisville, Lexington, and Northern Kentucky.

more than therapeutic needs

Most of the lawmakers’ questions and comments were related to providing treatment for problem gamblers and addicted gamblers. Stone, however, called on them to look at the bigger picture.

As our society moves towards legalizing and accepting gambling as part of our culture, the prevention and awareness aspects of this problem may be even more important,” Stone said. “We need to have programs in place to educate people and make people aware of what the potential is, and that’s what most of the money we’re talking about will be used for.”

KYCPG estimates that a problem and addictive gambling program will cost around $1.4 million in its first year of operation and up to $3.7 million in its fifth year. The committee has called on state legislatures to allocate money from taxes earned by gaming operations to pay for treatment services and public awareness and prevention activities.

With this funding, which the state receives less than 1 percent from gaming resources, the Kentucky Problem Gambling Awareness Program may be able to develop targeted campaigns to raise awareness about how certain groups of people are prone to becoming addicts or developing other problems . A similar initiative in Ohio launched campaigns targeting college students, seniors and other groups.

KYCPG manages Kentucky’s 1-800-GAMBLER service with RiverValley Behavioral Health, a regional community mental health center located in western Kentucky. Stone said the commission’s annual budget is about $80,000, with gaming operators taking on about $50,000.

Stone said the Kentucky Lottery does pay for some public service billboards and advertisements related to problem gambling. Racetracks are also using signage in their race shows and advertising about the issue, he said.

Discussion dates back nearly 20 years

Discussions of problem gambling funds are not new in Kentucky. Stone recalled a 2003 study that the legislature requested to investigate the issue. The resolution calling for the study was introduced by the then-state representative. CB Embry. Coincidentally, Embry died Thursday after a long battle with cancer, just days after he officially resigned as state senator.

In the last session, House Licensing, Occupational and Administrative Regulation Chairman Adam Koenig (R-Erlanger) introduced House Bill 609. The bill calls for the allocation of $225 million the state received from the PokerStars settlement to fund problem gambling programs. The final revision was $75 million, and while it passed the House overwhelmingly, it didn’t get a vote in the Senate before the April session ended.

“The money is now in the general fund, and I’m sure it’s already in the budget and using it,” said Koenig, who lost his seat in the May primary. “So, you have to find a different approach, but next year I will challenge the members of this committee to find a way to make that happen.”

Koenig also noted that House Bill 607, known for creating penny breakage at racetracks, also requires racetracks to set up a self-exclusion list for their historic race halls.

Lawmaker states his concerns

Senate Republicans on the joint committee said Thursday they understand there are problems and needs. However, they do not believe that giving income is the solution to this problem.

State Sen. Donald Douglas (R-Nicholasville) said the focus should be on state colleges to produce more certified counselors and therapists, especially since colleges offer degree programs that don’t lead to jobs related to them .

I do think we need to start leveraging some of the facilities we already have, rather than creating new capital flows,” Douglas said. “I think our taxpayers in the Commonwealth are probably getting a little tired of having to pay for a lot of things that they may not really be involved in.”

Still, a semi-retired adviser told lawmakers it’s not just about training new therapists, especially as opportunities for gambling have grown exponentially in recent years.

“We’ve learned over the years as professionals that we can’t do this on our own,” said Dr. Curtis Barrett. D. said. “It’s too big for the profession. It needs public awareness, public action and public funding.”

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