The R.V.:

State shirking duty to help gambling addicts

Richard N. Velotta

Richard N. Velotta

One of the things I didn’t report in the series of stories I wrote about the recent Nevada State Conference on Problem Gambling was that all of the speakers appeared on their own dime and received no honoraria for their presentations.

That included the co-director of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program, Timothy Fong, who appeared as an expert witness in Monsignor Kevin McAuliffe’s embezzlement case, and Paula Chung, the Reno woman who, with daughter Jacquie Dunlop, described her spiral into addiction and how it affected her family.

McAuliffe is the Catholic priest who took $650,000 from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church’s gift shop and votive candle funds to feed a gambling habit. He’s currently serving a 37-month term at La Tuna Prison in Anthony, Texas.

Chung’s and Dunlop’s gut-wrenching narrative of how Chung fed her last nickel into a slot machine and then tried to commit suicide with a dull knife brought many of the 75 clinicians and treatment specialists attending to tears.

You might say another presenter, Douglas Crawford, received a form of compensation. The disgraced former Las Vegas attorney, who ripped off his clients to the tune of more than $300,000, is hoping to get his license back this year so he can make enough money to make restitution to the victims from whom he stole. His sentence requires him to talk to the public about what he did.

The Nevada Council on Problem Gambling’s reason for not cutting expense checks to presenters isn’t that it’s cheap. The organization can’t afford it — it’s a nonprofit that operates on donations and memberships. A key public health program that members helped develop was cut when state lawmakers decided in 2011 to slash the amount of money the program receives from a quarterly fee on slot machines.

Problem gambling programs once received $2 from the fee levied on every slot in the state. Now, it gets $1.

The cut in funding comes at a time when compulsive gambling treatment advocates have completed a strategic plan for treating addicts. Bo Bernhard, executive director of UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, and Jeff Marotta, president of Portland, Ore.-based Problem Gambling Solutions (who paid his way to get here), explained that now that the plan is in place, there’s no way to implement it because of the lack of funding.

A key element of the plan is to treat the addictive behavior. An individual in treatment has the capability of working, making it possible to make restitution to victims.

Marotta and Carol O’Hare, executive director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, said it was hard for them to comprehend how the state could make an investment in treatment strategies, then fail to fund it.

But then, there are a lot of things about compulsive gambling that the public doesn’t understand. A read-through of some of the comments left on my stories and on stories about McAuliffe’s case show the great divide in the public’s understanding of the subject.

Some suggest that gambling addiction isn’t a disease and that those who play too much should muster a little willpower and quit. Yet there are clinical studies about problem gamblers from the best medical minds of Harvard University that show that compulsive gambling is an addiction no different from alcohol, drug and tobacco addictions.

I have no way of climbing into the heads of addicts, but I’m sure their brains are wired differently than others. Some critics, though, are not convinced that addiction is an illness.

Some judges share the skepticism. U.S. District Court Judge James Mahan, who adjudicated the McAuliffe case, sent him to prison where he won’t be able to make any money to repay the church. Mahan asked Fong if there was anything — a blood test, a brain scan, something — to prove that he was a victim of addiction and not just a thief.

District Judge Donald Mosley, meanwhile, made Crawford the first problem gambling defendant in Clark County to receive diversion to a three-year program of treatment under a statute approved by the Legislature. Crawford is grateful he’s not doing time and if he gets re-licensed, he’ll be able to pay back his victims. If he goes back to gambling, he’d be jailed.

Compulsive gambling frequently produces tragic stories like Chung’s.

It seems that an industry and a state that has reaped so many rewards from the entertainment that is gambling should be willing to develop public policy that treat victims of their affliction.

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  1. "The cut in funding comes at a time when compulsive gambling treatment advocates have completed a strategic plan for treating addicts. . .now that the plan is in place, there's no way to implement it because of the lack of funding."

    Like most "addictions" this one is entirely self-inflicted. Arguments of how government is somehow responsible for these individuals' poor personal choices is a dog that just won't hunt.

    So many of our fellow citizens are far more worthy of government assistance. It's time for these addicts to face the consequences of their own bad choices!

    "If you must hold yourself up to your children as an object lesson, hold yourself up as a warning and not as an example." -- George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, 1925 Nobel Prize winner

  2. Congrats, KillerB. You hit the nail on the head. Time for the morons who drink too much, spend too much or gamble too much to take responsibilty for their actions. We owe them nothing and I, for one, am sick & tired of the "touchy-feely" BS tossed about when they are referred to as "victims!" The real victims are those truly in need not getting the help they need because it is diverted to fools that drink too much, spend too much or gamble too much!

  3. "The real victims are those truly in need not getting the help they need..."

    lvfacts -- I have a young friend with a lot of health problems, including cancer. Yet she can't get help because of bureaucrats who pass stupid laws like this.

    "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are 'I'm from your government and I'm here to help.'" -- the late President Ronald Reagan

  4. Twelve step programs organized to treat addictions are usually self funded by their members. Gamblers can participate and appropriate programs are available locally. Outreach is possible, but the primary recruitment is by attraction. The addicted individual needs to recognize that they have a problem and seek help. Their are such addiction treatment programs in prisons too. A person can not remain completely passive or blame their problem on others and expect to recover.
    My personal view is that a person who steals hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then blows it on gambling, must have a clue about what they are doing. Their failure to seek help, and persistence in committing criminal acts hardly persuades me that they need help without the consequences, such as incarceration for their behavior. If a person robs a bank, do we really care what they plan to do with the ill gotten gains?
    There is a difference between sympathy and empathy. That difference gets obscured when someone advocates taking away the judicial consequences from an action by someone who is committing major criminal acts.

  5. We all have addictions but if they are self-inflicted, why is it the taxpayer's responsibility to pay and fix it? I understand in the long run it would be cheaper to treat them but we need to get off the "I failed, give me a bailout" gravy train.

    The article should be titled, "State shirking duty to protect the taxpayer and in Essence, THEIR JOB!"

  6. You think this is bad, wait until they can gamble online, credit cards in hand, in their bathrobes and hair rollers.