Michael R. Stone

Amid the debate over whether historic horse racing is legal, legal, or morally unacceptable in Kentucky, the Commonwealth is home to at least 9,000 addicted gamblers.

Based on the latest survey data, there are an additional 51,000 problem gamblers who have at least one symptom of gambling addiction and 190,000 Kentuckians at risk of developing gambling addiction.

Neither proponents nor opponents cite the impact of gambling on these quarter of a million Kentuckians and their families. There have been quotes about the cost of jobs and economic losses, both to the economy and to the individual, but the cost to the state is going lower.

The Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling (KYCPG) does not advocate or oppose gambling. Their mission is focused on raising awareness and alerting players to the help they need. Practically there is gambling and there are other Kentuckians struggling with problems and addictive gambling. Promoting or disapproving of gambling would dilute its mission, but the council monitors the impact of gambling on society. It assesses the impact the proposed legislation may have on gambling activity and the need for services for problematic and addicted gamblers and their families, friends and co-workers.

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Academically developed estimates of the cost of addictive gambling center around $ 9,000 per addicted gamer per year due to crime, bankruptcy, domestic violence, social services, loss of productivity and suicide. With only the 9,000 addicted gamblers identified in the survey, addictive gambling costs the state $ 81 million annually.

Kentuckians play. The results of the survey firm IPSOS from 2018 showed that 78 percent of adults had played in the past year. The Kentucky Incentives for Prevention survey of public school students found that 26.6 percent of high school graduates have gambled in their lifetime, and 1.9 percent of sixth, eighth, tenth, and twelfth grade students said gambling was a financial or financial affair causing personal problem which is a symptom of addicting gambling.

The IPSOS survey found that nearly three-quarters of respondents believe that gambling addiction is very similar to drug or alcohol addiction, and more than half agreed that a portion of gaming revenue should be used for public problems and addict gambling services . Although the Commonwealth of Kentucky receives more than $ 250 million annually in transfer payments, taxes, and fees for legal gambling, it does not offer any publicly funded problematic and addicting gambling services. Thirty-nine other states with legal gambling use a portion of their gambling revenues for such services.

Providing a meaningful and accountable program would cost the state less than half the 1% of the legal gambling revenue that the state receives. Compared to the cost of addictive gambling, the cost seems like a bargain and it is right to provide the funds that come from the activity that can be addicting.

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At the current session of the Kentucky General Assembly, Rep. Adam Koenig introduced House Bill 241, which would expand gambling by legalizing sports betting in the state. Its bill includes a section authorizing the creation and funding of a problematic and addictive gambling education and treatment program. The money would come from expanded gaming revenue and be managed through the existing behavioral health, developmental and intellectual disabilities department. It neither creates a new bureaucracy nor robs existing programs of their funding. It is a responsible determination to respond to an identifiable need regardless of whether or not one supports the legislation.

The identified need, addictive gambling, is a public health problem defined by both the American Psychiatric Association and the World Health Organization. Once recognized and identified, it is a treatable condition that is most effectively achieved through professional behavioral counseling and self-help from Gamblers Anonymous and Gam-Anon. Awareness-raising and prevention programs in other countries have shown that they are effective in reducing the extent and severity of gambling addiction.

Neither Senate Bill 120 that would change the definition of pari-mutuel betting to allow HHR to continue in the state, nor House 156 Bill that would increase the tax the state receives from HHR and Advance payments on electronic horse racing betting platforms contain indications of problematic or addictive games of chance that can be fueled by participating in these forms of gambling. The Problem Gambling Council urges the Kentucky General Assembly to include the language of identifying a problematic and addictive gambling education and treatment program in any law that extends or maintains gambling. It is the responsible thing to do.

Michael R. Stone is the executive director of the Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling.