Task forces question how state spends money for problem gambling treatment

Members of problem-gambling task forces around Kansas questioned how the state is spending money from a fund intended to treat gambling and other addictions.

They learned during a meeting of the Kansas Coalition on Problem Gambling on Wednesday that each task force that was formed in the three state-owned casino zones would receive $10,000 from fund in fiscal 2014, the same amount as this year.

While Gov. Sam Brownback has provided for an increase in funding for problem gambling services, the task force members said they aren’t benefiting from the increase.

“We need now to be building our infrastructure, and having just $10,000 a year for each task force is a very insignificant amount,” Stephenie Roberts, chair of the South Central Problem Gambling Task Force, said after the meeting.

The law that created the state-owned casinos in Kansas — the Kansas Star in Mulvane, the Boot Hill in Dodge City and the Hollywood in Wyandotte County — requires that 2 percent of the gambling revenue from those casinos go to the Problem Gambling and Addictions Grant Fund. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services oversees the funds. Most of the money has been allocated for Medicaid expenditures.

JoAnn Briles-Klein, a state-licensed certified gambling counselor in Wichita and member of the task force in south-central Kansas, said keeping funding flat for task forces is a slap in the face of volunteers put in many hours to serve them..

“To fund it at a flat-line rate, I’m sorry, that’s not good enough,” she told Angela Hagen, director of mental health for KDADS, during the meeting, which was held in Topeka but also available by teleconference.

A member of the Northeast task force said stakeholders in her zone may not provide matching funds if they perceive the state isn’t behind the task forces.

This year, the state budgeted $740,000 of the more than $9 million generated for the fund for problem gambling. Brownback’s 2014 budget calls for an increase to $1.88 million for problem gambling, although Hagen said $545,000 was committed, a number that doesn’t include treatment. She said budgeting will increase for treatment, based on data from last year.

Nothing is final until September, she said, and she offered to continue discussions with the task forces..

The numbers left some task force members confused and calling for a line-item budget so they can know exactly what they can expect to receive and can get programs underway in their zones.

“It’s just maddening when they won’t give you a clear picture. They blur everything,” Roberts said.

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