It is vital for the Florida Legislature to include funding for gambling-addiction treatment as it considers expanding the state’s gaming activities. No one in our state should be denied treatment for this disorder, and with proper treatment, compulsive gamblers can rejoin their loved ones, go back to work and make a productive contribution to their communities.
In its 2014 session, the Legislature will take a close look at the economic and social impact of expanding casino gambling in South Florida. This could potentially create new jobs and provide other economic benefits to the region. However, it’s important to recognize that expanding the gaming industry will also create serious problems for the small percentage of the population that suffers from gambling addiction.
In many ways, expanding gaming in Florida is similar to opening a new skiing resort in the Rockies. The benefits of offering a fun and exciting recreational activity include generating new jobs and increasing tax revenues to support government services. But you don’t open a ski resort — or a new gaming venue — without recognizing that some people will be injured. That’s why it’s important to allocate funds to pay for a ski patrol, or for treating problem gamblers.
Currently, few private insurance companies cover treatment for gambling addiction, even though it is now recognized as an addictive disorder like alcoholism or substance abuse. Unfortunately, federal funding in Florida is only available for gambling education and prevention programs — not for treatment itself. In addition, the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, the designated state authority for increasing public awareness of gambling addiction, suffered a draconian budget cut in 2011-12.
However, states such as Oregon, Iowa, Indiana and Minnesota now provide funding for treatment of gambling addiction with excellent results. For instance, Minnesota invests $2 million a year to help problem gamblers, and no one in that state is denied treatment because of an inability to pay.
When you consider the high cost of gambling addiction on people’s lives, families and communities, every dollar spent on treatment can generate a substantial return on that investment. Considering the state’s growing population and demographic diversity, Florida should be a national leader in providing public support for treatment of those affected by the insidious disease of gambling addiction.
Dr. Rob Hunter, clinical consultant, Recovery Road, Las Vegas, Nev.