Gambling with gamblers

A new study shows a high success rate for Nevada’s new gambling addiction treatment program.

The UNLV study of more than 400 Nevadans treated for gambling addiction found that 92 percent “either cut back or completely stopped gambling after treatment. Patients also made improvements in dealing with life issues and avoided harmful behaviors typically associated with gambling excessively.”

In spite of its pioneering role in legal gambling, Nevada was no pioneer when it came to providing help to addicts. The most recent Nevada legalization of gambling was in 1931. In the subsequent 74 years, the state studiously ignored the need to treat problem gamblers. In 2005, Gov. Kenny Guinn finally called for creation of such a program, and legislators agreed.

Gov. Brian Sandoval has recommended cutting the current level of funding for the program, $1.5 million, to about $738,000.

In a statement to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Washoe County Sen. Ben Kieckhefer described it as a choice of funding for autism or addicted gambling.

“I would be willing to take that other dollar in slot tax out of problem gambling and reallocate it toward autism services,” Kieckhefer said. “If I see a problem gambler and an 11-year-old severely autistic girl sitting next to each other, I know which one I’m going to choose.”

But other legislators say the two programs are not pitted against each other that way. That’s not the way budgeting works, they say.

“Sometimes there are trade-offs within a specific division,” said one legislator. “For example, we may consider tomorrow cutting the new transportation program the governor has recommended in the MH [mental health] budget—to stop by hospital emergency rooms and transport people to the state hospital—and we may choose to add back funding for the triage centers. Conceptually, we could do that. But when items are in two completely different budget areas, different subcommittees, such as the problem gambling and autism, you can’t really even conceptually do that. A subcommittee could recommend cutting one thing, and a different subcommittee could recommend adding something, but it’s not a quid pro quo. Each area has to be considered separately.”