Florida Legislature Cuts Funding for Compulsive Gambling While Allocating $400K for Study to Promote Gambling Expansion

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In a desperate move to reduce the budget, the Florida Legislature has made a stark decision to fund a revenue impact study of destination resorts (i.e. casinos) and horse racing in the State, while simultaneously defunding programs and services that help compulsive gamblers, including the statewide 24-hour gambling addiction hotline.

Research has definitively concluded, in Florida and elsewhere, that along with gambling expansion is increased prevalence for compulsive gambling. The correlation is very clear and is not disputable.

In a desperate move to reduce the budget, the Florida Legislature has made a stark decision to fund a revenue impact study of destination resorts (i.e. casinos) and horse racing in the State, while simultaneously defunding programs and services that help compulsive gamblers, including the statewide 24-hour gambling addiction hotline.

According to Pat Fowler, Executive Director of the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling (FCCG), “The Florida Legislature has made its priorities crystal clear, which is a sad day for the residents of this State. Although budget cuts were made in many areas of social need, those issues are not promoted by the State of Florida the way that gambling is.

“The direction this Legislature is heading is apparent and the writing is on the wall. Nearly 50% of our Agency’s state allocation has been defunded, which is used to staff the 24-hour Problem Gambling Hotline and related supports, all of which are provided for free to those in need of help for a gambling problem. Adding insult to injury, the Legislature has chosen to set aside $400,000 to conduct a study of the revenues that can be generated by casinos and horse racing, which will ultimately be used as the future justification for expanding gambling throughout Florida. The roadmap is very clear.”

Specifically, the Legislature reduced the FCCG’s funding from the Lottery for prevention, education and outreach initiatives, which includes the HelpLine (888-ADMIT-IT) operation, from $1.19 million to $800,000, and removed the entire appropriation from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), which was statutorily required upon the allowance of slot machines within pari-mutuel facilities in South Florida. Currently, each of the five racinos is required to pay $250,000 to DBPR for responsible gaming programming. While the Department entered into a contract with the FCCG to provide the necessary training and related services, and was earmarked to furnish the Council with the $1.25 million appropriation, nearly 50% of the funding appropriation has been withheld over the past two years. The Legislature’s decision now will pull the $690,000 appropriation the FCCG was receiving, which when coupled with the Lottery reduction, will force the gambling neutral not-for-profit to cut direct programs and services dedicated to helping those most in need.

Interestingly, FCCG HelpLine statistics reveal that slot machines, lottery games, and card playing (Poker/Blackjack) are the top three forms of gambling creating the most difficulties for Florida’s problem gambling population, per calls to its HelpLine.

“It seems that leadership and others are asserting they need to conduct a study to establish the potential benefits of resort style casinos before they actually take such action. It is doubtful that such a study would include a social impacts cost analysis as it relates to problem and compulsive gambling which would be required to actually determine the net benefits to the State. However, the FCCG has conducted research which has definitively documented such costs, yet the leadership and others fail to acknowledge these studies and the question is why?” Fowler asked.

The FCCG’s 2002 prevalence study, conducted by the University of Florida, revealed that 250,000 Floridians suffer from serious to severe gambling problems, which do not include the millions of residents negatively affected by the gambler’s actions. (This research is currently being replicated since it was undertaken prior to the presence of slot machines and other forms of gambling in the State.) Additionally, the FCCG has released studies confirming the impact of gambling addiction on crime in the State both among juveniles (2002) and adults (2010) within the criminal justice system, but here again these findings are not being addressed by government. This is surprising considering every FCCG study has been state-sponsored and funded.

“Research has definitively concluded, in Florida and elsewhere, that along with gambling expansion is increased prevalence for compulsive gambling. The correlation is very clear and is not disputable. It doesn’t take a mental giant to recognize that any expansion of gambling to resort areas will generate increased revenues to the State. The question is at what cost? I am quite confident the gambling industry would be delighted to fund an independent study at their expense, if they have a chance to expand gambling in the state,” explained Paul Ashe, FCCG’s President and Founder.

“Given this relationship, it is unconscionable that the Legislature has determined it appropriate to reduce funding to the very population that gambling expansion directly impacts upon in this state. It is also difficult to comprehend that while state government has taken in more than $4 billion in gambling revenues this year, it feels no urgent need to help those who have fallen prey to the very games the government is promoting,” added Ashe.

Finally, just recently, the Seminole Tribe, which operates seven casinos in the state, awarded the FCCG a $1.75 million grant to support free treatment services to HelpLine callers since state government has never furnished funding for gambling addiction treatment. “Given the most recent development, it now seems rather ironic that government is looking to one segment of the gambling industry to foot the entire bill for the gambling problems in the State, while refusing to acknowledge the role it plays as both a promoter and regulator of such games,” concluded Ashe.

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Pat Fowler
The Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling
(407) 865-6200
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