By David Anderson, Tillicum
Lakewood’s City Council will vote unanimously Monday night August 6th to approve the expenditure of $55K in grant money to treat problem gamblers.
But they shouldn’t, even if it’s Federal money and not their own.
On pages 65-87 of the council’s agenda linked here (click on August 6) you can read the details concerning Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar’s recommendation to the council that it approve “the 2012 Department of Justice grant to support the County Prosecutor and the Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling in a grant application for a new program to provide therapeutic justice to problem gamblers.”
Local media headlines on Tuesday morning will read “Lakewood to become one of only two cities in the entire nation to operate Problem Gambling Court”. Likely the Washington Municipal Research Services Center, which highlights happenings in cities state-wide, will feature something similar.
Given the fact that there will be only two such programs in America however means the Problem Gambling Court cannot be said to be based on best-practices.
Testifying on behalf of the only other place in the United States where a court has included gambling addiction as a rehabilitation responsibility of government, Judge Mark Farrell of Amherst, New York writes “It is possible to reclaim a life here” (p.75).
But how likely? And how many are we talking about? And what is the cost-per-participant of this reclamation project?
No supportive documentation indicating the success of Amherst’s program – for however long it’s been in existence – is included in Lakewood’s proposal before the council.
Some of the numbers that are provided however prove revealing.
That Lakewood would enter an agreement with other agencies to institute a treatment for problem gambling is based upon a tenuous link the city believes to exist between drug use and gambling addiction.
Here locally, “the Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling facilitated a study of clients who were enrolled in the Pierce County Superior Drug Court assessing (them) for gambling addictions. Of the 93 subjects tested, 17 showed indications of gambling addiction and 8 of those scored in the range regarded as pathological gamblers.” To be eligible for Lakewood’s proposed gambling treatment program, participants must score three or higher on a scale of 10 indicating they have addictive tendencies (scale on pages 71 and 72).
Of the 17 then in Evergreen’s study, 8 would be automatically enrolled given they score five or higher defining them as pathological. The other nine make the cut if they are planning their next trip to Vegas; spend more at the casino than the last trip; start and stop and start again; exhibit withdrawal symptoms; are liars, etc.
So anywhere from say 10 to 15 per hundred that are so identified and qualify totaling 40 per year for each of four years, will receive – in addition to a gambling recovery journal/guide – a complete gambling assessment, 32 weeks of group sessions, six monthly group sessions, six individual sessions, five voice stress tests and a partridge in a pear tree.
But do “these relative few prone to harmful excess”[i] – gambling addicts as summarily dismissed by Dan Voelpel, business editor for the Tacoma News Tribune – warrant such concern? And why do we care? Now?
During the attempt to oust casinos in 2008 in Lakewood, you’d have been hard-pressed to find someone in the ‘don’t-ban-our-gambling-
And of course the chief proponent of gambling was Brian Wurts, former Lakewood Police Independent Guild President, whose status remains unknown to the general public following his resignation early this year while being investigated by the FBI for possible involvement in fellow officer Skeeter Manos’s embezzlement of money used in part for gambling here and in Las Vegas. It was Wurts who more than once declared that there were zero reports, as in none at all, and no officers at all “sharing hundreds of years of experience (that) can remember ever dealing with a situation involving negative effects from gaming in the home.”
OK then so why are we doing this?
Each successive year’s financial support for the problem gambling treatment program depends upon – you might say is addicted to – casinos increasingly chipping in to sustain the effort (pp. 75, 76). But how dependable is the gambling industry to play by the expectations, let alone rules, by contributing their fair share in even a robust economy let alone this one?
Representatives of Lakewood casinos argued before the City Council, for example, “that a sliding scale tax makes (the) business more hesitant to donate to charities and other community causes because it doesn’t know for sure how much discretionary income it will have.”[ii]
What other leverage might this industry employ in order to get its way and what way does it want to get?
One of the partners planning this four-year problem-gambler treatment program is Dolores Chiechi, Executive Director of the state’s Recreational Gaming Association. When Freddie’s Casino in Fife closedrecently it was Chiechi who declared her intent to lobby the legislature, again, to allow slot machines in non-tribal casinos which would include of course those in Lakewood. With the tribes capitulating toInternet gambling so as to ensure they get a piece of the action, this leaves the lowest-on-the-totem-pole non-tribal casinos to hit up the lawmakers for slots, the most addictive form of gambling there is in order to even keep up.
Like players at a spinning roulette wheel, from addicts ostensibly to be treated, to problem treatment providers, to the casinos, to the city council, to the state legislature, all can hope the clattering ball will land on the number that fits their budget constraints while salving a guilty conscience at the same time.
After all, with “four operating casinos within the boundaries of the City of Lakewood (that are) prospering and provide the city with a source of revenue from gaming taxes”, to treat gamblers whose problems have been created or at least exacerbated by the industry from which the city prospers is the least we can do.