Herald-Leader Editorial

Treating gamblers good public policy; Unfair to ignore issue Ky. helps create

Unfair to ignore issue Ky. helps create

February 6, 2013 

The principal reason governments legalize gambling is to raise money.

There is and will continue to be a legitimate debate about whether that's good public policy, but there should not be any debate about whether the state should use some of that revenue to support treatment for people with gambling addictions.

Some 37 states see it that way and fund those programs.

Unfortunately, the Kentucky General Assembly has not seen it that way. For three years, Rep. Terry Mills, D-Lebanon, has filed bills that would create and fund a program to educate people about problem gambling and treat those who suffer from it.

They've all failed. Mills is trying again this year, with House Bill 58, but acknowledges it's a long shot.

That's not only unfortunate, it's irresponsible.

Today, even without casinos, state revenues amount to about $200 million annually from racing, the lottery and charitable gambling.

Mills' bill requests $600,000 in the first year for these programs and $1.2 million in the second year. Even the larger number is significantly less than 1 percent of the state's gambling take.

A 2008 survey conducted on behalf of the Kentucky Center on Problem Gambling found the prevalence of compulsive gamblers was 0.3 percent of the adult population, about 9,000 people, while problem gamblers account for 1.7 percent, or 50,000, adult Kentuckians.

Problem gamblers are people "who have experienced personal or financial hardships" as a result of their gambling.

Compulsive gamblers are people who's "personal and financial hardships are so numerous and severe that they hinder daily functioning."

They are the people who mortgage their homes, drain family education and retirement accounts, steal from employers and others to feed their habits. Pathological gambling has been a recognized psychological disorder since 1980.

"He would bet whenever he could — on horse races, ball games, go to gambling boats in the middle of night — getting more and more in debt all the time," Hawesville Mayor Rita Stephens told the Herald-Leader's Jack Brammer about her husband, Billy. "My addiction almost destroyed me," Billy Stephens said.

Ultimately, his family borrowed $6,000 to send him to a treatment program in Louisiana, a publicly supported facility free for that state's residents. He's been clean since 2010.

The vast majority of adults will not be compulsive, or even problem gamblers. But some will and the damage that does to them, those around them and society is terrible and costly.

It's good public policy to dedicate less than 1 percent of state revenue from gambling to educating people about this disease, and treating those who suffer from it.

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