Nevada should expand, not slash, state’s problem-gambling program By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports March 3, 2021 at 10:00 pm March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. It’s a time set aside for a status-check on the ongoing effort to address the complex issue of compulsive gambling. As it has with all other aspects of daily life, the pandemic has complicated efforts to inform players about problem gambling and provide treatment options. In Nevada, so reliant on gaming and tourism for its tax revenues and economic vitality, COVID-19 has been devastating. When the casinos closed and then only partially reopened, the revenues slowed to a trickle. And those economic stresses have crushed the state’s budget for its problem-gambling awareness and treatment programs. A cratered economy compelled Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak last summer to call a special session of the state legislature to address the dramatic shortfall in the budget, which by law must remain balanced. Given Nevada’s tax structure and high unemployment, the only quick fix was to make substantial cuts across the board, including a 75-percent slash (about $1.6 million) in the state’s problem-gambling program run out of the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services. This means trouble for compulsive players seeking treatment and a better understanding of the challenges they face. In the Silver State, the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling estimates 6 percent of adult residents have a gambling problem, with treatment available for just a few hundred a year in the best of times. Programs that rely on help from the state in order to provide treatment are under more stress than ever. The challenge for Nevada is manifold. In addition to providing treatment opportunities for residents amid a crisis, it also has a reputation to uphold. For many years, the state downplayed its problem-gambling dilemma to the point of denial. It wasn’t so long ago that Nevada had no state help for problem gambling at all. After decades of neglect, in 2005 the state legislature passed Senate Bill 357, which for the first time set aside funding to help problem gamblers and establish the Advisory Council on Problem Gambling. There’s encouraging news for those needing some. In October 2020, UNLV’s International Gaming Institute produced its annual “Nevada Problem Gambling Study” under the direction of Bo Bernhard. Its research and analysis of Nevada problem gamblers show that treatment, when available, can be effective. From the report: “Overall, the treatment participants we interviewed provided very positive assessments in an impressive variety of spheres – including access to services, treatment quality and helpfulness, treatment effectiveness, reduction in gambling behaviors, and overall ratings of the quality of service. Treatment is highly impactful on clients’ quality of life, shown through sustained improvement in their relationships, employment, and problems related to gambling. Around 80% of clients reported improvement in these areas after 90 days post enrollment and continued to see improvement after 12 months post enrollment. “Significantly, 50% percent of clients discharged in fiscal year 2020 system-wide were discharged successfully, meaning they had completed at least 75% of their treatment goals, a continued wellness plan, and had not engaged in problem gambling behaviors for at least 30 days prior to discharge. Based on our analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data, we found that respondents were most positive about the cost of treatment services, treatment access, group counseling, the educational information provided, and the bonds they shared with their peers in treatment.” That’s not only a good sign on a human level, but also potentially an important note for the industry to sound – as long as it remains a transparent partner and participant in the process. In a state that touts itself as the “gold standard” when it comes to all things gambling, falling short in the area of recognizing and responding to the issue of problem gambling is really short-sighted. It wouldn’t be the first time those words were written about Nevada politics. Bernard in his legislative testimony last July reminded lawmakers that when other jurisdictions consider allowing Nevada casino corporations to set up in their state, they inevitably return to a simple question: “’What are you going to do about problem gambling?’ … For many years Nevada has taken pride in its status as the gold standard in the global gaming industry. But if this legislature enacts a stunningly disproportionate 75 percent cut to the problem gambling fund, while making 20 percent personal cuts elsewhere, we are ensuring that our reputation takes a major hit.” If you want to be known as the gold standard for gambling, make sure you don’t get caught peddling fool’s gold.