Bill funds programs to fight gambling addiction | NevadaAppeal.com
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Bill funds programs to fight gambling addiction

Former Carson Access Television Director Craig Swope on Monday asked lawmakers to put a share of gaming tax revenues into programs to help gambling addicts.

He said he is a “recovering addict” who embezzled money, lost his job, nearly broke up his family and wound up convicted of a felony because of his gambling.

SB357 creates a commission which would make grants to gambling recovery programs. The money – an estimated $822,000 the first year and $1.6 million the next – would come from a fee of $1 per slot machine per quarter in 2006 and $2 per machine in 2007.

He said his addiction drove him to write more and more checks from his employer’s account to try to win back the money he had lost.

“The hole just got deeper,” he said.

Finally, he ended up pleading guilty to a felony charge and is now serving two days each week in the Carson jail while trying to pay back the money.

He was joined in supporting the legislation by major gaming executives as well as psychologists who said gambling addiction is an illness – one which can be treated if the programs are developed and funded.

SB357, he said, would “produce awareness.”

Swope, 55, was sentenced to 180 days in jail for embezzling nearly $500,000 from the public TV operation. He has since repaid all but about $77,000.

Swope turned himself in, admitting he wrote himself duplicate payroll checks during his four years as director and failed to pay IRS withholding for employees.

“One of the issues I’ve dealt with is the unbelief on the part of friends and family – particularly in-laws who say, you know, why didn’t you just stop,” he said. “It’s a legitimate question. Denial would be an easy answer.”

“The No. 1 problem facing the addicted gambler is denial,” Swope said.

He said creating the commission would help the rest of the people understand this is an illness like drug or alcohol addiction.

Valerie Michael, of Las Vegas, told the committee her husband gambled away more than a million dollars but hid his addiction from her for years. She said her business was bankrupt, her home in foreclosure and creditors were beating on her door when she finally filed for divorce.

“I lost an entire decade of my life just trying to survive the mess,” she said.

Sen. Barbara Cegavske, D-Las Vegas, asked whether the money should be combined in programs for drugs and alcohol as well, saying she thinks many gambling addicts also have those other addictions.

But Rob Hunter, who operates the largest gambling treatment center in Nevada, said there is already a structure to provide help for drug and alcohol abusers.

“I have a dozen drug programs we can refer them to, so if another addiction is primary there is another program we can get them into,” he said.

Hunter said unless the gambling program was separate, he feared the money would disappear into those other programs.

Human Resources Director Mike Willden told the committee gambling addiction is more common than most people think, citing a 2000 study which estimated 6.4 percent of adults in Nevada have a gambling problem.

Bill Bible, of the Nevada Resort Association, said gaming already provides support for the few existing programs to help problem gamblers. He said the industry supports SB357.

The bill would allow grants not only for prevention and treatment but education, public awareness, research and other needs.

Sen. Dennis Nolan, R-Las Vegas, sponsor of the legislation, said it’s a shame Nevada – “the leader in the world’s gambling structure” – is the last to put money into fighting and treating gambling addiction. He said other states which legalized gambling over the past 20 years have set aside funding from the taxes received to deal with addiction.

n Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.