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Howard Stutz

Problem gambling panel hopes to gain renewal of funding

12 February 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- After allocating almost $2.5 million for programs dealing with the research, prevention and treatment of compulsive gambling in Nevada, a state advisory panel hopes to do it all over again.

The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services is asking the Nevada Legislature to restock an account that for the first time allocated state money to look at problem gambling issues.

Steve George, a department spokesman, said Gov. Jim Gibbons included the funding in the budget he submitted to the Legislature last week.

The program is fueled through a $2 fee attached to every licensed slot machine in the state. But the funding source is scheduled to end on June 30 unless the Legislature reapproves the program.

The fund, created in the 2005, could grow to $3.3 million for the next biennium because of the increased number of slot machines in Nevada since it was implemented, George said.

A nine-member Advisory Panel on Problem Gaming, appointed in 2005 by former Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn, allocated the $2.5 million collected for fiscal years 2006 and 2007 to a variety of programs, including educational and research endeavors and treatment facilities, all focused on studying and combating compulsive gambling.

The advisory panel included representatives from the gaming industry, educators, health professionals and problem gambling organizations.

In a state in which casinos generated gaming revenues of almost $12 billion in fiscal 2006, gaming industry leaders said it's important to continue following up problem gambling efforts started in 2005.

"I think it's critical that we continue to fund this program so we can get more definitive data to analyze," said Station Casinos Chief Financial Officer Glenn Christenson, who served as a chairman of the advisory panel. "It took so long for this program to get funded, it would be a shame not to know the end results. We think we need to continue to look a what the proper amount of funding should be for some of these programs."

Christenson said he would be willing to testify in front of the Legislature on the advisory panel's behalf to support renewed funding for the program.

"There is a lot more we would like to do and lot more that can be done," Christenson said. "One thing that I learned is that there are very few practitioners in the area of problem gambling in the state. We were able to fund some work-force development, but I'd like to see us be able to fund the training of additional people."

The largest chunk of the account, $1.43 million, went toward treatment programs operated by recovery centers and charitable organizations.

The next highest amount, $421,757, was divided among five problem gambling prevention, education and awareness programs.

Health and Human Services Director Mike Willden said the committee did a good job meting out the grants to a variety of services and groups.

"With gaming being such a critical industry for our state, it is vital that Nevada lead the way in assisting residents and visitors alike in correcting behavior that can have dire results on the individual and his or her family," Willden said.

Bo Bernhard, an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas who is the director of gambling research at the school's International Gaming Institute, said funding the program just once would short-change any research that was started with the committee's money.

"I believe some of the studies will give us additional ideas on how to address problem gambling," Bernhard said. "We need to take a lead role in this issue."

The International Gaming Institute received a $191,000 grant from the committee to develop a Nevada-specific problem-gambling prevention and intervention strategy in conjunction with a program developed by Harvard Medical School's Division on Addictions.

Bernhard said researchers from UNLV and Harvard University are seeking about 180 participants for the study that could help individuals overcome gambling addictions. Bernhard said the study wants volunteers concerned about their own gambling habits.

People interested in participating in the gambling study can call Bernhard at 774-2222.

Bernhard said UNLV's School of Public Health received a $99,031 grant to evaluate and give guidelines for gambling treatment in Nevada to make some existing programs more effective.

Meanwhile, $76,539 was allocated to the Center for the Application of Substance Abuse Technologies at the University of Nevada, Reno and the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling.

The organizations are working jointly to develop an enhanced Web site for use treating and preventing problem gambling.