SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico pulls in millions of dollars in revenue from the state lottery, racetracks, tribal casinos and other operations each year, but little goes to preventing and treating problem gambling.
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the state earmarked $70,250 to specifically address problem gambling in the last budget year while collecting more than $156 million in lottery profits, revenue sharing from tribal casinos and gambling taxes.
By comparison, gaming tribes and racetracks were required to spend $2.3 million to combat problem gambling.
The newspaper also reported that the state Compulsive Gambling Council, created by law in 2006, hasn’t met for several years despite a legal requirement to meet regularly.
Guy Clark, chairman of Stop Predatory Gambling New Mexico, said the state government’s efforts to combat problem gambling are a failure.
“No one in the government seems to want to do anything about it,” Clark said, suggesting that the government “doesn’t want to bite the hand that feeds it?”
The Health Department argues that the state has numerous initiatives aimed at problem gambling and that gaming compacts with the tribes require spending one-quarter of 1 percent of their slot machine winnings on problem gambling programs.
Health Department spokesman Paul Rhien also cited a provision in the latest compacts that requires tribes to create programs to allow gamblers to voluntarily exclude themselves from casinos. Previously, only racetracks were required to have self-exclusion programs for gamblers.
Rhien also described the gambling council as another unfunded legislative mandate.
State Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, said Gov. Susana Martinez could fund the council out of the Health Department’s budget.
Under state law, council appointees aren’t paid for their work and they don’t receive reimbursement for travel expenses. The Health Department secretary or the secretary’s designee is supposed to chair the council. Other members include representatives of the industry, experts in compulsive gambling and behavioral health professionals.
The Health Department budget totaled more than $550 million in the last fiscal year. While the budget didn’t include money specifically targeted for problem gambling, it included funds to fight tobacco and alcohol use, obesity, cancer, opioid overdoses, HIV/AIDS infection and more public health concerns.
Clark said the two-term Republican governor should re-establish the Compulsive Gambling Council to help with prevention and treatment.
“We know that we have thousands of people afflicted,” he said.
Smith, a senior senator who played a pivotal role in expanding gambling in New Mexico, said efforts to combat addiction have slid over the years to the back burner of state government and that efforts today don’t reflect the seriousness of the issue.
“The problem is much larger than anybody wants to talk about,” Smith said, adding that he needs to start asking more questions and hold hearings on the government’s response to the problem.
Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.sfnewmexican.com