AP News

Kan. problem gambling funding criticized

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The head of the National Council on Problem Gambling on Thursday urged Kansas to increase its support for programs that help residents with gambling addictions, saying the state has an ethical and financial responsibility to do more.

Keith Whyte said that not all of the money from a state fund established in 2007 is making it to addiction programs. He said only 10 percent of the funds earmarked for addiction programs were being spent on those who need help. The state collects 2 percent from the casinos, about $7.8 million in the next fiscal year, earmarked for problem gambling and other addiction and prevention services.

"If it's legalized, you have a higher obligation," Whyte said.

Whyte's comments came as Gov. Sam Brownback's administration is answering questions about budget proposals that initially appeared to reduce funds from the programs administered by the Department for Aging and Disability Services. Those funds have since been replaced from other sources within the agency's budget to keep funding level at about $740,000 for problem gambling programs, including an addiction hotline, counselors and prevention.

The state provided problem gambling services to 140 people in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012.

House and Senate budget committees have adopted the agency's recommendations in bills currently being assembled. Debate on those bills is expected in the coming weeks.

Angle de Rocha, spokeswoman for KDADS, said the agency had the flexibility to use its funding sources, which also include federal Medicaid matching funds, to provide services and backfill the proposed reduction in problem gambling spending.

Whyte said he was disappointed that supporters of problem gambling programs had to fight to keep funding for the program, but hoped that assurances that programs will be supported in future years are kept.

"I would rather see much more in writing," he said.

Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said legislators drafting the state-owned casino bill in 2007 sought the problem gambling fund as a means to address concerns raised by opponents concerned about potential social effects. He said in the years since problem gambling programs have been "shortchanged" but the intent was to address more than just gambling.

"The purpose was to create an infrastructure addiction services," Ward said, which could include alcohol and substance abuse.

The intent was to treat root causes of all addictions, which Ward said were often related.

Whyte was scheduled to speak at a Topeka town hall forum Thursday afternoon to discuss problem gambling and its effects on individuals and how families can seek support.

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