The testimonies of two experts at the recent hearing into online gambling in Pennsylvania were contrived with one objective in mind – more funding.
It is not unusual for government departments to pitch for extra resources during online gambling hearings. The New Jersey Department of Gaming Enforcement and Nevada Gaming Control Board both squeezed extra funding out of their respective state budgets and, in California, everybody has pitched in for a piece of the pie.
However, at the recent hearing of the Pennsylvania Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development (CERD) Committee, the case put forward for extra funding by the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) was done in such a contrived way that it was not even examined by the committee – the senators only having one question:
How much money would you like?
Putting Problem Gambling into Perspective
Undoubtedly Pennsylvania does have problem gamblers, and the DDAP provides an excellent service to the Commonwealth with the resources that it has. According to the department´s 2014 annual report, the DDAP provided inpatient treatment for 705 gamblers. 539 had their treatment funded by their insurance provider, while the other 166 had their treatment funded from the department´s budget.
The DDAP also allocates considerable resources to the prevention of problem gambling, and runs programs to educate citizens of all ages about the risks associated with gambling. The department works with other gambling-related agencies to collaborate on gambling issues and share resources, and runs training courses to increase the number of qualified professionals who are eligible to provide problem gambling counseling services.
The department is funded by a levy of 0.2% on the total gross terminal revenue of all active and operating licensed gaming entities with a minimum operating budget of $2 million guaranteed. A further $3 million from the State Gaming Fund is distributed between Single County Authorities for the assessment and treatment of addicted gamblers.
If online gambling in Pennsylvania is regulated, and if the regulation resulted in an expansion of gambling (and revenues from gambling), the money allocated to the department would increase from the levy on the total gross terminal revenue. Consequently, the DDAP should not have needed to pitch for more money – but pitch it did, it an elaborate sting that completely fooled the CERD committee members.
How the Sting was Set
About an hour and twenty minutes into the committee hearing, Ken Martz took center stage. Martz is a psychologist with twenty years’ experience in helping people with gambling problems, and who now works as a special assistant to the secretary of the DDAP to construct the programs which help problem gamblers.
Martz went through a lengthy testimony explaining the role of the DDAP, its programs and how it is funded. According to the agenda for the hearing, Martz was supposed to discuss whether additional resources for the DDAP would be warranted and whether those resources should go to the DDAP or the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
However, after nearly fifteen minutes of testimony, Martz was stopped in his tracks by the committee chairman – Senator Kim Ward – without having answered the question about whether more resources were justified and where they should be allocated. Senator Ward said she wanted to keep to the timetable for the hearing and hear from Liz Lanza – the Director of the Office of Compulsive and Problem Gambling at the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board – and that was when the sting was completed.
Lanza Gets the Job Done
Lanza hit the floor running – quoting a document released by the National Council on Problem Gambling which called for more resources to be made available to tackle problem gambling issues when online opportunities are made available. Lanza then went on to tell the committee that providing access to online gambling would create another avenue for an individual to become addicted to gambling.
A lull in her pitch developed as she talked about the existing self-exclusion programs being coordinated by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, but then – out of the blue – Lanza said that it was difficult to assess how much should be set aside for online gambling and that,
if i-gambling legislation is passed, you can expect a likely increase in problem gambling prevalence (*).
(*) We added the bold text and italics for emphasis. Lanza did not say that there
would be an increase in problem gambling prevalence just that senators could
expect a likely increase. Had she not been pitching for extra funding, Lanza might have said that studies have shown no connection between the availability of online gambling and increased gambling addiction.
As soon as Lanza had completed her testimony, Senator Ward raised the question about where the additional resources would be allocated (not
if there were additional resources). Lanza and Martz agreed that an established service was available through the DDAP to tackle problem gambling, at which point Senator Wiley chipped in with a comment that it was
critical the DDAP´s services were enhanced.
Lanza and Martz maintained their poker faces throughout a brief Q&A session that followed, but at the end of their testimonies (104:45 on the recording of the proceedings) there was no disguising their delight at getting the job done. Not only had they convinced the committee that the DDAP needed more funding, but they had done it without having to justify an increase and with one very significant omission from their testimonies.
What Martz and Lanza Omitted from Their Testimonies
Somehow, everybody listening to the testimonies of Ken Martz and Liz Lanza seems to have overlooked the fact that online gambling already exists in Pennsylvania, and that the regulation of i-gaming would not create another avenue for an individual to become addicted – just regulate a multi-million dollar channel that already exists.
According to John Payne – the author of the first i-gaming proposals to be introduced in Pennsylvania this year –
millions of Americans, including Pennsylvanians, participate in illegal online gambling. Payne made no secret that the primary goal of his legislation was to raise tax revenues
Had Martz and Lanza been completely honest at the CERD committee hearing, they would have mentioned that gamblers who have developed gambling issues through online avenues are already being treated by DDAP and are included in the figures published in the DDAP annual report. In fact, the number of online gamblers with issues recorded by DDAP in their annual reports has remained constant over the past three years.
Please Don´t Squeeze the Players Anymore
Why should it concern poker players in Pennsylvania that a government department wants to squeeze more money from the state? Well, there is only one place that money is going to come from – the players themselves.
We would suggest that the CERD committee members take another look at the Martz and Lanza testimonies and consider:
- There is no evidence to suggest the regulation of online gambling results in an increase in gambling addiction.
- Pennsylvania already has an active online gambling market. Anybody who is already a problem gambler is not going to wait until 2017 before feeding their addiction.
- If we are wrong – and the regulation of online gambling results in an increase in problem gambling – a mechanism is already in place to provide extra funding to the DDAP.
Please don´t squeeze the players anymore to fund government departments.