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March 24, 2013

Casinos paying less to fight gambling addiction

States bet on gambling windfall but cut funding for treatment programs

Jodie spent nearly two years in prison after stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from her employer to feed a raging addiction to slot machines at Foxwoods.

In recovery, she now works at a Boston-area nonprofit helping other compulsive gamblers get help, but she fears the rollout of casino gambling in Massachusetts could open the floodgates to more cases likes hers.

“I still don’t know what made me jump off the cliff, but I started to go to Foxwoods and starting playing the slots,” Jodie recalled. “It was pure escapism — it doesn’t make any rational sense. I ramped up very quickly to $100 slots and within six months, I had lost $300,000.”

As Massachusetts, New Hampshire and other states bet on a casino windfall, publicly funded gambling addiction programs are struggling to prepare for an increase in problem gambling, a review by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting found.

Massachusetts is committed on paper to spend millions on problem gambling programs once casinos are up and running in coming years.

However, amid a series of changes in the funding formula that have gone unreported in news outlets, the amount casinos will eventually have to pay each year toward problem gambling treatment has dropped by more than $20 million since Gov. Deval Patrick first rolled out plans for casinos in 2007.

And even as it promises future spending, Massachusetts has cut $560,000 from this fiscal year’s budget for the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, the state’s main prevention and treatment program. That has put a dent in plans by the advocacy group to prepare for the rollout of three Las Vegas-sized casinos across the state.

Marlene Warner, the council’s executive director, says she now spends her time lobbying at the State House instead of planning new treatment programs.

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