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Lawmakers question spending money designed to fund programs for problem gambling

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, at 11:32 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012, at 11:56 p.m.

— A top state official says he’s asking Gov. Sam Brownback to boost state funding of programs for problem gamblers and to reverse the trend of using the money to make up for budget shortfalls.

But even with an increase, two Republican senators said Tuesday that the state may still be improperly spending problem gambling money on domestic abuse and other programs not included in the law governing how gambling revenues are spent.

This year, the state budgeted $740,000 of the more than $9 million generated by channeling 2 percent of gaming revenues into a state problem gambling fund. The majority of the cash — $6.4 million — went to Medicaid for addiction services, which didn’t result in an increase in problem gambling services in Kansas despite the increase of gaming facilities.

Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, asked that lawyers with the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services justify spending the money on programs, such as those dealing with domestic violence, that don’t seem to be among eligible programs for the gaming revenue.

“We believe it has to directly be related to gambling, alcohol or addictions,” she said.

Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, said that the state has “at best been intellectually dishonest in how these funds were used.”

“It’s time for us to be honest with ourselves and with our constituents and either dedicate this money for one or more specific uses and use it only for those purposes or put in the state general fund,” he said. “This is just embarrassing to me.”

Gary Haulmark, commissioner of the Department of Aging and Disability Services, said he’s asking Brownback for a $3.5 million increase in spending for problem gambling services, which include outreach, counseling, help lines and administrative costs.

"The problem gambling service system in Kansas has historically been poorly funded and is therefore an underdeveloped system," Haulmark said.

The state is progressing in helping problem gamblers, he said, but he acknowledged that the state hasn’t identified communities with gambling problems or found a baseline of how many people have problems and what their needs are, which would be crucial in measuring progress as a result of new programs.

“We don’t have enough of that,” Haulmark said, responding to a question from Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka.

“I just always worry about plopping programs in place and then measuring later to see if they’re effective,” Kelly said.

Lawmakers fiercely debated how to spend problem gambling funds earlier this year. Meanwhile, leaders in Sedgwick County and across the state have sought to raise awareness about problem gambling. Only about 100 people used problem gambling services in its first year despite statistics that show there are likely thousands more in need.

The state’s problem gambling hotline is 800-522-4700.

Reach Brent Wistrom 785-296-3006 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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