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Arnold M. Knightly

Nevada problem gambling bill expected to pass

22 May 2007

NEVADA -- The Assembly Ways and Means Committee is scheduled to discuss legislation today that would make state funding of problem gambling treatment and research permanent.

A vote on Senate Bill 453 could also follow later in the day. The bill passed out of the Senate on May 7 following a 20-1 vote approving the measure.

"There doesn't appear to be any real opposition at this point," said Carol O'Hare, a member of the Governor's Advisory Committee on Problem Gambling and executive director of the nonprofit Nevada Council on Problem Gambling.

State funds to combat problem gambling were approved by the 2005 Legislature, but current funding is scheduled to expire June 30. Gov. Jim Gibbons pledged his support for continued funding during last month's Nevada State Conference on Problem Gambling.

Former Gov. Kenny Guinn appointed the advisory committee in 2005 to make recommendations on disbursing the state funds.

The money is diverted from the state general fund through an existing tax on slot machines, with an allocation equivalent of $2 per machine.

William Bingham, Bellagio's vice president of table games and an advisory committee member, said the measure seems to have the support of the entire gaming industry. "We're just waiting to have this renewed and to continue to monitor the programs that are being funded," Bingham said.

Almost $2.5 million in grants have been awarded in the program's first 21 months, a report released by the advisory committee in January shows.

The money was split, with $1.43 million going to treatment programs, $383,757 for education and prevention programs, $295,799 for research, and $232,925 for counselor development programs.

And $95,000 was spent on technical assistance and data development.

Before the Legislature's decision to provide funds, problem gambling programs relied solely on private donations from the community or the gaming industry.

Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, cast the single dissenting Senate vote, saying too much money is being diverted from treatment programs.

"It just seems that the money is getting diluted and diluted and not actually going to treatment," Carlton said. "If we're actually going to do this we need to do it all the way instead of piecemeal."

Carlton also objects to money being diverted from the state's general fund. She said she supports state-funded treatment of problem gambling.

O'Hare said that some of the advisory committee members also had the perception in the beginning that much of the money would be going toward treatment but soon realized more was needed.

"Treatment alone is never the answer if you look at any community health issue," O'Hare said. State funding provided treatment for 531 clients through December.

Six percent of Clark County's approximately 11,000 homeless listed problem gambling as their primary reason for being homeless, a Southern Nevada Regional Planning Commission's Committee on Homelessness survey released in April shows.