The Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling told state gambling regulators Tuesday at the monthly meeting of the Louisiana Gaming Control Board that its $2 million a year in financing is not adequate to meet the growing needs of treating compulsive gambling disorders.
“We’re still meeting only a fraction of the needs shown by prevalence studies,” said Reece Middleton, executive director of the nonprofit association. “We are now at the point where we need to ask for more money.”
The Compulsive and Problem Gaming Fund receives one-quarter of 1 percent of gross gambling revenues, up to a total of $500,000, from each of four different sources: riverboats, video poker, the state lottery and Harrah’s New Orleans Casino, the state’s sole land-based casino.
In the years since that formula was devised, the state has opened more riverboat casinos and put more video poker machines online, but no more money flows to the problem-gambling fund because the contributions from those types of ventures are topped out.
In addition, the state has allowed new gambling venues that are not required to contribute to the fund. For example, three racetracks have opened casinos, or “racinos,” and Churchill Downs Inc. , new owner of the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, soon is expected to begin the state and local approval process for slot machines.
The addition of more gambling means more opportunities for people to develop gambling problems, the organization said.
At the same time, the compulsive gambling association has become more ambitious in its outreach efforts, opening a second residential treatment center, CORE-South, in 2003 in New Orleans.
Louisiana is considered a leader nationwide in its compulsive gambling treatment efforts, and its two centers are among only five facilities devoted exclusively to gambling problems in the United States.
The state’s two residential treatment centers have admitted more than 1,220 people since the original facility, in Shreveport, opened in 1999. More than 200 people have enrolled in outpatient programs since they began in January 2003. Caseloads in both programs are increasing. Since the Problem Gamblers Helpline opened in 2003, it has handled 13,978 calls for help, including 117 suicide calls, Middleton said.
Middleton said Rep. Ed Murray, D-New Orleans, plans to revive HB 470, which never made it out of committee last spring, to dedicate up to $500,000 of “racino” revenue to the compulsive gambling treatment fund. Another idea for increasing the amount of money available for treatment programs is to raise the $500,000 cap on each form of gambling.
TOGEL Gaming Board member Mervin J. “Kelly” Simoneaux suggested that Middleton ask Louisiana’s three American Indian casinos for donations to the compulsive gambling treatment programs. Indian casinos are not regulated by the gambling control board or taxed by the state.
Of the three Indian casinos, Middleton said the only one that contributes to the compulsive gambling fund is the Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville, which donated $25,000 to the effort this year. Avoyelles Parish, where the Paragon is located, has a high rate of compulsive gambling problems, Middleton said.
If the association is successful at getting additional money, Middleton said he would use it to expand youth outreach efforts. As casinos nationwide try to reach out to younger audiences, there are increasing signs of problem gambling among young people, Middleton said. His group, in association with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and researchers at Harvard University, have developed a curriculum for schools.
With additional financing, Middleton said he also would try to expand outpatient treatment services in New Orleans, buy the residential treatment building in Shreveport and create a compulsive gambling halfway house where clients could go after residential treatment. Middleton did not specify how much more money is needed.
Rob Stillwell, a spokesman for Boyd Gaming Corp. , which owns Delta Downs Racetrack and Casino, the state’s first racetrack casino, said his company supports responsible gambling efforts, but the decision on how to allocate “racino” tax money would be up to the state.
“The state of Louisiana is one of the few states that actually sets aside money to assist with the responsible gambling effort, and they’ve really done a great job at it,” Stillwell said. “To what level the funding needs to change, that would be something that the Legislature needs to decide.”