National Commentary

Congressman Moran’s News Commentary

The majority of Americans gamble, most without doing harm to themselves, their families or their communities. Unfortunately, for approximately 3-4 percent of American adults, recreational gambling becomes a problem.

The majority of Americans gamble, most without doing harm to themselves, their families or their communities. Unfortunately, for approximately 3-4 percent of American adults, recreational gambling becomes a problem.

We know that problem gambling or an addiction to gambling destroys peoples’ careers, disrupts marriages and relationships, and often leads to criminal activity.  As state governments look for ways to boost revenues in these tough economic times, many are turning to legal gaming operations to expand the tax base.  Based solely on the law of averages, this will in turn increase the number of Americans struggling with gambling addiction.

This week I introduced legislation, the “Comprehensive Problem Gambling Act,” which for the first time would devote federal resources to the research and treatment of problem gambling.  The bill, supported by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), represents a long overdue federal commitment to address gambling addiction, whose social repercussions add up to more than $7 billion each year.

Legal gambling revenue, excluding most sports betting, poker and internet gambling, has grown into an approximately $100 billion a year industry.  In 2006, the IRS reported that individuals claimed $27.9 billion in gambling winnings on their income tax returns, resulting in $5.3 billion in federal tax revenue. At the same time, the estimated social cost of problem gambling-related bankruptcy, divorce, crime and job loss is estimated at $7 billion annually.  Despite these high costs, no federal agency has the responsibility of coordinating efforts to treat gambling addiction.

The legislation, which I introduced with Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), would for the first time ever make a responsible federal commitment to research and treatment for problem gamblers. It integrates problem gambling services into the federal health agencies and supports existing state-based and non-profit programs that help problem gamblers with the devastating consequences of this disorder.

The Moran-Terry-Wolf legislation designates the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) as the lead agency tackling problem gambling. The bill would allow the agency to conduct research, develop guidelines for effective prevention and treatment programs, and provide assistance to community-based gambling addiction services.

In addition, the bill would establish a grant program within the Department of Health and Human Services to assist states and localities in administering prevention and treatment programs, to fund research efforts to better understand problem gambling, to develop effective treatment programs, and to support a national public awareness campaign.  All told, the legislation would authorize $14.2 million annually in support of these programs.

With the expansion of gambling operations, problem gambling will grow. But, if at the same time, we ramp up local, state and federal commitments to combat this disease, we have an opportunity to keep it from getting out of hand.

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