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Nevada Appoints Nongambler to Oversee Problem Gambling Grants Program

9 August 2005

CARSON CITY, Nevada -- A nongambler has been hired to head the state's new problem gambling program.

Mike Willden, director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, said Monday that Suzie Kastens will be a contract employee to oversee the grants programs authorized by the 2005 Legislature.

Willden said the members of the state's Advisory Committee on Problem Gambling will be named later this month by Gov. Kenny Guinn and the first meeting will probably be in late August or early September.

Kastens, of Carson City, retired two years ago from state government. She worked in the grants program in the state's Historic preservation office that disbursed money to preserve structures.

She said she does not gamble but is familiar with processing applications for money.

Willden said she will work 3/4 time to get the program started and then will probably work part-time.

She will help in reviewing the requests for money from groups that want to help those with gambling problems. And then she will monitor the organizations to see if progress is being made.

The bill creating the program was authored by Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, who said the husband of his sister-in-law had a gambling problem. He said the husband put the family "in debt up to its ears." The man went to counseling but continued gambling, Nolan said.

Former Sen. Mark James, a Las Vegas Republican and later a Clark County commissioner, tried several times to get money for the project.

Nolan said he knew the gaming industry would be opposed if the Legislature tried to impose a new tax. But he said it was agreeable if existing money was used. The bill provides that $1 of the tax on each slot machine be set aside for the program this fiscal year and $2 in the 2007 fiscal year.

The gaming industry, Nolan said, also opposed the plan in part, feeling it was being singled out. But he said the casinos were finally convinced problem gambling is a mental health problem just like drinking and drugs.

Nolan said Gov. Kenny Guinn will hold an honorary signing of the problem gambling bill today in Las Vegas at the Sawyer State Office Building.

A two-year study on problem gambling was presented to the 2003 Legislature, estimating there could be up to 53,500 adult pathological gamblers in Nevada.

And it found that children as young at 11 years old in Nevada become problem gamblers and as many as 4,000 adolescents have experienced severe difficulties related to gambling.

The study was performed by Rachel Volberg of Gemini Research, Ltd. It said problem gamblers are "significantly more likely to smoke daily and to use marijuana on a monthly basis" compared to non-problem gamblers.

The study also found problem gamblers are more likely to have experienced mania or depression when compared to non-problem gamblers.