Committee weighs funding support for recovering gamblers

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Lawmakers are considering a publicly funded program to combat gambling addiction with education, prevention, and treatment. 

Mike Stone, executive director of the Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling, was one of a few advocates who testified Thursday before the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations.

“(The council) does not oppose nor advocate for gambling. Gambling exists,” he said. “Statistics indicate tens of thousands of Kentuckians are already at risk, or have a problem, or have addictive gambling disorder.”

Many other states already have publicly funded programs to address gambling addiction, Stone said.

Several lawmakers weighed in on the issue during the hearing.

Rep. Kimberly Poore Moser (R-Taylor Mill) said what advocates are seeking might be a good start, but she asked if special billing codes for insurance would cover gambling addiction.

“I think this is good,” she said. “I don’t know that $150,000 is enough to cover any sort of real treatment, but I think it’s a start for an awareness campaign.”

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas (D-Lexington) said he has been supportive of gaming since he started serving in the Senate, but he sees the need for such a program.

“I do recognize that gambling is addictive, and I’ve had friends who have had problems with it,” he said.

Thomas asked how the program would work and how addiction is treated.

John G. Arnett Jr., a board member of the council and a recovering gambling addict, said Kentucky needs more certified gambling therapists. He also said insurance companies don’t often pay for gambling addiction treatment.

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“Unless it’s changed dramatically, there are no private insurance companies that cover gambling addiction, and if there are, there are very few,” he said.

Thomas said he was dismayed that, according to information in the presentation, Lexington does not have a certified gambling counselor.

Rep. Al Gentry (D-Louisville) said he is also an advocate of gaming, but there is a need for the proposed program and what it includes.

“Just about every state across the country that has legalized gaming has some sort of tax revenue provision that contributes to dealing with this addiction,” he said. “It is a real thing.”

Sen. Donald Douglas (R-Nicholasville) said no one doubts Kentucky needs more certified gambling therapists, but he expressed concern about creating a new funding stream. He added that the public already pays for universities, and more focus is needed on producing counselors.

“I do think we need to start utilizing some of the facilities that we already have instead of creating new funding streams,” he said. “I think our taxpayers in the commonwealth are probably getting a little bit tired of having to pay for a lot of things that perhaps they don’t really participate in.”

Likewise, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) said funding needs to be carefully considered.

“I’m not saying I’m for this. I’m not saying I’m against this, and I appreciate your efforts. But human activity is addictive, and we have all sorts of activities that people get addicted to that are legal,” he said. “We spend a lot of money on counseling and prevention for things that are illegal, like drugs, which continue to be a pervasively negative influence on our society. And my rhetorical question today is, ‘Is it really the job of the taxpayers to fund recovery programs for addictions to things that are legal?’ So, I’m just going to leave it at that.”

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