Part of Lakewood’s $55,503 grant to treat problem gamblers was used to buy one or more Sea-Doo’s to patrol Lake Steilacoom.
Public Disclosure Request (PDR) documents [(2012-2013) and (2013-2014)] recently obtained from the City of Lakewood reveal this and other less-than-admirable outcomes of a unanimous vote by the Lakewood City Council on August 6, 2012 to authorize the expenditure of $55K in federal grant money to treat problem gamblers.
Now, two years into what was initially proposed as a four-year program, the Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) is no more.
In 2012 Lakewood became one of only two cities in the nation, the other being Amherst, New York, to operate the Problem Gambling Court via “the 2012 Department of Justice grant to support the County Prosecutor and the Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling – a grant application for a new program to provide therapeutic justice to problem gamblers.”
On pages 65-87 of the council’s agenda for August 6, 2012, Lakewood Police Chief Bret Farrar enumerated the benefits of the program.
Lakewood would partner with the Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling to enroll up to 40 citizens per year over the next four years who demonstrated “addictive gambling tendencies.”
Participants would 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, and five voice stress tests.”
Then City Manager Andrew Neiditz told the council that this grant was “consistent with community interest in mitigating difficulties associated with problem gamblers.”
So other than purchasing sea-doos, what did the grant – ostensibly for the purpose of reclaiming the lives of local gambling addicts – actually accomplish?
According to Lakewood’s end-of-year report, dated October 18, 2013 (link provided), during the first 12 months of operation, local grant-award recipients attended the mid-July three-day “27th National Conference on Problem Gambling” at the Doubletree Hotel, Seattle Airport.
The theme was “Connections: Building Partnerships.”
Ironically whatever partnerships Lakewood built would, in just the next fifteen months, collapse.
Lakewood’s second – and last – annual report, this last October 6th (link provided) blamed the demise of the program on its partners.
“The original program for which this grant was written has great merit but needs to have complete buy-in from all partners. The sub-recipient (identified in the year-end review as Pierce Alliance) teamed up with an organization that proved unwilling to perform all of the elements of the grant program and ultimately caused the dissolution of the partnership.”
It was following these parting of the ways that the Lakewood Police Department bought Sea-doos to ply the waters of Lake Steilacoom – with federal grant money to be used for gambling treatment.
According to the original agreement (pp.75,76), which was approved by the city council on August 6, 2012, each successive year’s financial support for the problem gambling treatment program depended upon casinos increasingly chipping in to sustain the effort.
While the “organization that proved unwilling to perform” is not identified, the downward spiral of gambling tax revenue provided the city may well indicate who did not live up to its part of the bargain.
In August of 2012 Lakewood projected (links provided) the check to be cut by the casinos to the city by year’s end would be $3,071,000. It wasn’t. Over a half-million dollars less – $2,425,133 to be exact – was what the city took to the bank from gambling taxes.
From a high of $3,091,044 in gambling tax revenue generated within the city in 2007 – when Lakewood led the state in number of card room tables with 90, then earning the dubious title “the nontribal gambling capital of Washington” – local casinos have followed a state-wide trend.
Since the peak of the industry in 2005, when Washington was home to 105 cardrooms, now “fewer than half of them remain and cardroom profits are nearly two-thirds of what they were nine years ago,” wrote Justin Runquist in The Columbian this past October 15th.
“We are absolutely in trouble,” said Dolores Chiechi, executive director of the Recreational Gaming Association which represents about half of 80-plus nontribal minicasinos statewide.
But casinos in trouble – and the gambling industry’s disinclination to significantly assist with anything other than its own self-aggrandizement much less financially support a problem gambling treatment program – is not news.
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” (Tacoma News Tribune’s then-reporter Rob Tucker, March 14, 2007).
And that was 2007 when Lakewood’s casinos ranked number one in the state in card room tables.
Nevertheless, the council bought the casino’s argument and the tax rate was fixed at 11 percent.
Five years later, in 2012, the council believed, compassionately, that it was time to treat gambling addicts that the city’s partnership with the predatory gambling industry may have created. The casinos would chip in. Lives would be reclaimed; gambling recovery journal/guides would be distributed; voice stress tests administered, and other promises would be kept.
JAG: “What major activities are planned for the next six months?”
Lakewood (end of year one report, 2013): “The crew from Pierce County Gambling Court plans to travel to Las Vegas to see how they provide services in their Gambling Court.”
JAG requests Lakewood complete a narrative.
Lakewood, October – December, 2013: “The panel of therapists, judges, prosecutor and defense attorneys have discussed traveling to the annual meeting of Therapeutic Gambling held in Florida. (Indeed they would, in June, 2014). There have also been a few clients who have graduated from the drug/gambling court.”
Lakewood, June, 2014 – “Of 43 clients to-date, 20 are still active, 10 have graduated, and 13 dropped out.”
And in June of this year the four year program ended at but two years – and two conferences, and 10 graduates and 13 dropouts.
And a Sea-doo or two.