A recent survey has found that half of Kansas adults gamble about once a month and that almost one in 12 admits to having bet more than they could afford to lose.
“It’s a real problem,” said Joyce Markham, an addiction counselor and president of the Kansas Coalition on Problem Gambling. “This affects not only the gambler, it also affects family members, our friends, and our co-workers through bankruptcies, crime, domestic violence and health care costs.”
Markham said she knew of several families that had lost their farms, homes, and life savings due a father or mother’s addiction to gambling.
The survey, commissioned by the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, also found that while a large majority of state’s gamblers said they did not have a gambling problem, 13 percent of the respondents said they had “been affected” by someone - spouses, family members, friends and co-workers - who did.
Conducted in October and November, the poll involved telephone calls to 1,600 randomly selected adults. Each respondent was asked 96 questions.
Buying a lottery ticket was considered a form of gambling.
“There is so much information here, it’s a bit overwhelming,” said Doug Ballou, a managing partner with Whitworth Ballou, a Kansas City marketing firm that assembled the questionnaire and oversaw the interviews.
Ballou presented an overview of the findings during a Wednesday morning meeting of the Kansas Coalition on Problem Gambling.
KDADS officials said they would use the survey to put together a policy on how best to spend the state’s problem gambling fund, which is expected to reach $8 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Kansas law stipulates that 2 percent of the net revenue generated by the three state-owned casinos – Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane, Boot Hill Casino in Dodge City, Hollywood Casino in Kansas City – be spent on programs and services for people with addictive behaviors: alcoholism, drug abuse and problem gambling.
Net revenue is defined as the slot-machine and table-game income minus payouts.
In an email sent to members of the Kansas Association of Addiction Professionals last month, a KDADS official said there likely would be less money for prevention and treatment services in the proposed budget for fiscal 2014, which begins July 1, 2013. The amount of the reduction, if any, remains unclear.
Gov. Sam Brownback is expected to release his proposed budget on Jan. 16, the day after his state of the state address. The Legislature is then free to add or subtract from the the governor's spending plan.
In the current fiscal year, the 2 percent set-aside is expected to generate about $7 million, most of which is used to underwrite Medicaid-funded drug and alcohol abuse programs. KDADS treatment and prevention efforts receive about $750,000.
Several coalition members said expected the governor to propose eliminating state-funded support for prevention and treatment services.
The state’s toll-free hotline for problem gamblers (1-800-522-4700) fielded 691 calls last month.
The House today decided against debating a bill that would allow smoking in bars.
Instead, members voted 62-49 to send the bill back to committee, likely ending this year's sole legislative challenge to the statewide smoking ban.
House Bill 2690 would allow smoking in bars or other businesses where all workers and patrons are at least 21 years old. The statewide smoking ban that began in 2010 currently exempts casino gaming floors, private clubs, retail tobacco shops, certain hotel rooms and designated spaces in adult long-term care facilities.
Under the bill, about 1,700 drinking establishments in the state would be eligible to allow smoking, too.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, said the double standard allowing smoking in casinos but not in bars was hurting businesses in her district.
"We look to see the loss of bars on the south side of Wichita at some point with the casino not being that far away," said Landwehr, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. The floor vote sent HB 2690 to her committee.
Landwehr said adding another exemption to the smoking ban would be preferable to doing nothing, since the Legislature is unlikely to remove the exemption for casinos.
"There are a lot of people on this floor who say they oppose smoking in public places but they will not vote to ban it in the casinos and that's just wrong," Landwehr said. "If you take the exemption away from casinos, then you level the playing field. I think the bar owners would prefer to have smoking back in place, but we can only do what may be feasible up here."
Chris Masoner of the American Cancer Society's Kansas chapter said that today's vote should put an end to challenges to the smoking ban this year.
"I think technically there are ways it could be brought back up again, but my hope would be that today's vote indicates the House is willing to let the existing law stand," Masoner said.
Last month, the Kansas Supreme Court upheld a legal challenge to the smoking ban seeking to exempt more recently licensed private clubs.