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					I have pointed out the relationship among problem gamblers, the gambling industry (including the RI Lottery Commission) and the enormous stream of revenues that flow into private and state coffers. State sponsored or licensed gambling is here to stay, nobody is naïve enough to think otherwise. The central questions of this committee, if I’m not mistaken, are: 1) whether to allow the expansion of the VLT’s at the existing casinos in Lincoln and Newport (those proposals would almost double the number of VLT’s),… & 1a) Would a Las-Vegas style casino in RI be acceptable? The second question is what public health provisions should be implemented to prevent if possible, and to treat if necessary, problem gambling? In his testimony last week, Mr. Whyte of the National Council on Problem Gambling promoted the acronym PETER: prevention, education, treatment, enforcement, and research. There is no substantive education or prevention initiative in RI. There is a public awareness program sponsored by funding from the lottery commission. What that amounts to is the promotion of a toll free number to access problem gambling treatment. Enforcement is poor when it comes to protecting problem gamblers from their own actions and by extension, protecting their spouses, children, employers, etc. Research is practically nil. All the data that you’ve been presented with tonight was un-funded research. We do it because it needs to be done, not because we get paid for it. What about the treatment initiative? The gambling industry in Rhode Island has had a 10year free reign, and only last year were any public funds made available for treatment. Any way you slice it, we in the public health arena are 9 years behind the curve. We can’t catch up if we stick with the current policy. While the projected revenues for the industry and the state continues to increase year-to-year, the public funding for treatment was frozen at $150,000 for the current year, the same as the first year. I don’t think its out of line for me to ask, what’s going on here? When revenues from gambling expand, why on earth should public health funding to deal with the devastation caused by gambling remain static? It makes no sense. SLIDE #30 While increased treatment dollars are necessary, pumping money into treatment isn’t the whole answer. The areas of education, prevention, enforcement and research are not in place. In my opinion, the most important of these is regulation and enforcement of the gambling industry in Rhode Island. If as I have testified, up to 40 or 50% of the profits from VLT’s come from problem gamblers, it is simply foolish to rely on the industry to regulate or police itself. Gambling isn’t a right. It should be a privilege. For example, minors don’t have the right to gamble. And the industry and governmental regulators have a well established policy of excluding or limiting the participation of certain other individuals. Felons, cheats or trouble makers can all be legally barred. If a customer kicks and breaks a machine at LP or NGJA, watch how fast they get rid of him (or her) and keep him off the property. In addition, as you heard a few weeks ago, players can be barred for being skillful gamblers. If the industry or government can prevent people from placing a bet, or even from entering the establishment for profit motives, or for the integrity of the game (as in the case of ―undesirables‖), why not do it for ethical motives? Why not do it for public health

motives? If the problem gamblers take their dollars to Connecticut, so be it. I personally think that many of them will not. I wish to make the following specific recommendations to the commission: (NEXT) There should be a moratorium on any expansion of existing facilities (no new VLT’s) and no new gambling operations unless and until: An independent regulatory office is funded, appointed and empowered. This should be a professional, full-time staffed agency with carte blanche to inspect all procedures, complaints, etc. It must have unilateral authority to levy significant fines or suspensions of operating licenses for repeated offences. This regulatory agency will do most of its work on-site. That is, space will be developed at Lincoln and Newport. This is similar to the Casino Control Commission in NJ, which has an independent staff stationed on every casino property. (NEXT) Player tracking should be enabled and instituted. In order to gamble at one of the facilities, players must be registered at that facility and they must swipe their card to gain entry. (There is multi-national precedent for this, for example in the UK, you must be a ―member‖ to enter a casino). This will make it possible to track any player’s losses, the amount of time they gamble, and so forth. Part of the regulatory staff’s function would be to flag certain player profiles. For example, payers who gamble an average of 3 hours or better might be in need of help. Professional Mental Health Liaison on the premises. Approach players who may be problem gamblers. Engage them in a dialogue. I would like to see the industry become at least as proactive with the customer who comes in several times per week, plays for hours alone, makes several trips to the cash machine (as they are with the customer who is disruptive). Responsible Gambling software added to existing VLT’s (NEXT) No gambling by employees—certainly not during work hours, and not after hours either. This includes every RI Lottery vendor – employees should not be allowed to buy scratch tickets, play keno, or anything else. In the past year we have treated 5 people who worked as cashiers, clerks, or bartenders who have gotten into serious financial trouble, if not legally. The licensee whose employees routinely gamble on the premises should be subject to severe penalties. We have also seen 5 patients from the industry, 3 that worked in RI and 2 at Connecticut casinos. Mandatory open door policy for state or federally funded research conducted on site. Severely limit cash machine access and check cashing. Moratorium on expansion should last until the above programs are implemented and results have been evaluated – probably several years at least.

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Maximizing revenues in business or in government is ok, but not at any cost. What is the dollar cost of… breaking up a family, having to work well past retirement age, or losing one’s values? Please consider the recommendations I’ve made and act with restraint and wisdom.


				
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posted:11/5/2009
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