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Problem-gambling advocate says lack of funding hampering efforts

Since legal sports wagering and online casino gaming launched in the state last fall, calls to the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling’s helpline have quadrupled, nearly overwhelming the understaffed agency, its executive director told lawmakers Monday.

Diana Goode, speaking during an online forum conducted by the legislature’s Public Safety and Security Committee, said “big issues and little issues … are making a perfect storm of horribleness at the Connecticut Council.”

She said a major concern is lack of funding from the casinos — Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun — which, along with the Connecticut Lottery Corp., support problem-gambling initiatives in the state.

“The Connecticut Council isn’t for or against gambling,” Goode said at the outset of her remarks. “We just want to make sure that as gambling becomes easier and more accessible that safeguards are in place to protect those who can’t gamble responsibly and right now they really aren’t.”

While problem-gambling treatment programs in the state are “phenomenal,” Goode said, the council’s lack of funding for prevention progams and outreach hampers its ability to help people get treatment. 

Goode said the council believed the expanded-gambling legislation passed last year called for each casino to contribute $500,000 annually to problem-gambling efforts — in addition to the $250,000 to $300,000 each casino had been contributing. In fact, the legislation requires each casino to contribute a total of $500,000, only a portion of which reaches the council. The lottery’s contribution was increased from $2.3 million to $3.3 million.

"I’m not sure what Foxwoods is doing with their funding,” Goode said. “Half is coming to the council — I don’t know where the other half is going.”

She said Mohegan Sun is interested in funding a problem-gambling treatment program Yale is developing. It could be three to five years before clinical trials are completed and treatment is available for patients.

“That doesn’t help us when we get calls on Monday morning from people who’ve lost everything on sports betting over the weekend,” Goode said, adding that immediate funding also is needed to ensure problem gamblers know the helpline exists. She said TV ads for sports betting flash the helpline number only briefly, while in print ads, it appears in especially small print and radio ads decrease the volume when it’s mentioned.

Asked about Goode’s remarks, Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashanatucket Pequot Tribe, which owns Foxwoods, said if the council is receiving calls like the one Goode described, it shows the system is working.

“And that’s a problem that needs to be addressed,” he said, referring to problem gamblers who suffer devastating financial losses.

Butler said there apparently was confusion over the amount the casinos were to provide for problem-gambling programs and how and when the funds would be disbursed. He said he was surprised to hear Goode’s frustration with Foxwoods, in particular, and would seek a meeting with her to discuss the matter.

Sports betting and online gaming generated $4.2 million for the state in November, their first full month of operation, and $3.9 million in December. By a wide margin, online gaming generates the greater share of the total.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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