More casinos, fewer treatment programs

The news: The Illinois General Assembly approved plans for a gambling expansion that would allow for five new casinos in the state, including one in Chicago.

Behind the news: Studies have shown that new casinos bring an increase in gambling addiction, but Illinois has one of the lowest budgets for providing services for problem gamblers.

Illinois spent $960,000 on hotlines and treatment programs for gamblers in 2010, the third-lowest amount of any state with land-based and riverboat casinos. Total spending was 7 cents per Illinois resident, far less than the national average of 36 cents, and only 0.2 percent of the tax income the state took in from casino gambling.

Illinois now has 10 land-based and riverboat casinos, while Indiana, which has only one more, budgets $5.5 million for services, 12 times more per capita than Illinois.

The proposed expansion would bring Illinois’s total to 15 casinos, the same number as Iowa, which budgets 17 times more per capita.

“The state should spend significantly more money,” said Glen Cannon, a board member of the Illinois Council on Problem Gambling. “And not just for treatment but also for education and prevention.”

Problem gambling, and the debt that accompanies it, strike minority populations significantly harder than their white counterparts, according to a study by trade publication CNS Spectrums, which analyzed a 2001-2002 survey by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. It also tends to affect the poor, with 65 percent of black problem-gamblers earning less than $20,000 a year.

Cannon fears the state’s plan would increase the rate of problem gambling and cautions that expansion has to go hand in hand with increased funding for treating and preventing gambling addiction.

“Accessibility increases casualties,” he said. “It will increase the number of individuals who could develop problems.”

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