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Plan earmarks $200,000 to help problem gamblers

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    CARSON CITY — Compulsive gambler Linda C. finally sought help after she came home from a devastating night at a Las Vegas casino and, staring at two handguns on her kitchen counter, contemplated suicide. She didn’t want to die, but she didn’t want to live, either.

    Nine years later, she’s hopeful about a proposal from Gov. Kenny Guinn to use $200,000 in state money over the next two years to help create a problem gambling program.

    The funding would mark the first time the state has put any money toward helping people addicted to gambling. Guinn also hopes to get at least $200,000 in matching funds from the casino industry over the same period.

    “I think it’s highly needed,” said Linda, 57, who spoke on the condition her last name not be used. “But, personally, $200,000 is just a joke.”

    A peer counselor for compulsive gamblers in Las Vegas, Linda isn’t alone in lauding the proposal while chastising the state for waiting so long to offer so little. Other states with far less in casino revenues and a shorter history of legalized gambling contribute much more to fight problem gambling.

    Arnie Wexler, a recovering compulsive gambler who lives in New Jersey, said the money is a long time coming in Nevada.

    “I think the amount is not a big deal, but this is a wonderful start and I commend the governor for doing what he’s doing,” said Wexler, who conducts responsible gambling workshops and training for casino workers.

    Greg Bortolin, Guinn’s spokesman, said the governor thinks the state needs to take responsibility for problem gambling.

    “I think symbolically this is the first time the state has ever made a commitment,” Bortolin said.

    The Nevada gambling industry already contributes the bulk of the money that goes to problem gambling “hands down,” said Carol O’Hare, executive director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling.

    Mike Willden, director of the state’s Department of Human Resources, estimates the industry contributes nearly $1 million to O’Hare’s council and a problem gambling center run by Dr. Rob Hunter in Las Vegas.

    Meetings are taking place with casino industry officials, who might be willing to contribute up to $2 million to combat problem gambling, Willden said.

    “Harrah’s is committed to responsible gaming, and we’re going to do what we can to help the governor make his proposal a reality,” said David Strow, a Harrah’s Entertainment spokesman.

    Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs for MGM Mirage, said the money is long overdue.

    Feldman said it’s appalling the state hasn’t put up funding before and called the amount small, especially compared with the $1.83 billion the state expects to collect over the next two years from gambling and live entertainment taxes.

    State Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, said the bandarqq state needs to be responsible for funding the program.

    “The problem is a lot greater than people say,” Townsend said. “It’s part of the overall scope of mental health that includes all kinds of addictive behaviors.”

    Townsend and state Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, are among lawmakers proposing legislation to ensure the state budgets enough money to fund training for counselors and contracts with treatment facilities.

    While all states except Utah and Hawaii have some form of legalized gambling, just 17 provide funding for problem gambling programs, according to Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.

    Nationally, 82 percent of people have gambled in the past year, said Christine Reilly, executive director of the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders.

    She said 1 percent to 2 percent are pathological gamblers and up to 4 percent have a less severe problem.

    Willden said nearly 100,000 people in Nevada, or 6.4 percent, have some level of gambling problems.

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