Put more gambling revenue toward fighting addiction
State legislators in Pennsylvania and nationwide increasingly have become addicted to gambling-generated state revenue. There is no cure because, for politicians, gambling is a good deal. It enables them to increase state revenue without increasing income and business tax rates.
There is no upside, however, for the growing ranks of addicted gamblers, citizens whom policymakers always have viewed as collateral damage of the state-sanctioned gambling enterprise.
In Pennsylvania, gambling proponents originally contended that their intention was simply to keep Pennsylvania money in Pennsylvania, to capture potential state revenue that was being spent in Atlantic City.
There is no doubt, however, that the Pennsylvania industry has created legions of new gamblers and untold numbers of addicts.
Even as gambling access grows - the state still has a license to award in Philadelphia - official concern about gambling addiction has not.
Definitive statistics on gambling addiction aren't available because, of course, addicted gamblers try to hide it. Nationwide, experts estimate that between 4 percent and 6 percent of gambling adults become problem gamblers.
Repeated events reveal the toll. Several public officials and treasurers of civic organizations in Pennsylvania, for example, have been arrested for using municipal funds to cover their gambling losses. A dozen gamblers or so have been charged with leaving young children in cars in casino parking lots. And those cases are just the visible manifestation of addiction.
Yet states that sanction and promote gambling do relatively little to detect and help addicts. Pennsylvania dedicates a small portion of casino-generated revenue to addiction services, a $2 million baseline with more based on the take. The Associated Press reported last week, for example, that the state had dedicated a total of $17.5 million to the treatment fund from 2007 through 2012, as state gambling revenue steadily has climbed to more than $2 billion per year. Nationwide, 37 states that sanction gambling contributed just $58 million to addiction treatment in 2010.
States report their revenue from gambling and the programs that it funds. They do not, however, report the cost of gambling-caused dysfunction - the family disruption, lost productivity and crime.
State lawmakers should instruct the state agencies that deal with gambling and addiction to regularly release details on addiction, just as they release details on revenue. And they should direct more of that revenue to fighting addiction.