Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois Gaming Board Rebuked over Suicides Missouri Polishes Program to Handle Problems

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois Gaming Board Rebuked over Suicides Missouri Polishes Program to Handle Problems

Article excerpt

Debts rung up at Illinois casinos drove three compulsive gamblers to suicide in eight months while a $400,000 state appropriation for a hot line to help such people went unspent, activist Tom Grey said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in Missouri a voluntary industry organization is putting the final touches on a statewide "responsible gaming" program that will fund a hot line and information campaign with contributions from casino operators and vendors.

Grey, a Methodist minister who travels the nation to oppose gambling, demanded action at an Illinois Gaming Board meeting in Chicago, where he detailed the deaths of a Collinsville woman and two others.

"We - including you - knew this would happen," Grey said, scolding board members. "It's in your 1991 wagering study, pages 8 through 11."

But J. Thomas Johnson, chairman of the board, said the General Assembly never provided the money or authority to deal with the long-identified problem of gambling addiction until last summer.

He said the $400,000 appropriation is "a drop in the bucket" that could be too easily squandered if used only to pay quick lip service to a problem that needs more time and probably deeper resources.

His board instructed its director, Michael Belletire, on Tuesday to act as swiftly as possible in coordinating a network of counseling services to back up a legislative mandate for a phone referral service.

"What good is a hot line if we have no one to refer callers to for counseling?" Johnson asked.

He said the job may not be a good fit with his board, which has authority only over riverboat casinos. Compulsive gambling transcends all forms, he said, including the state lottery and horse racing.

Grey told a reporter that $400,000 is embarrassingly little in a state that predicts state and local casino tax receipts approaching $300 million next year.

And he told the board he is tired of excuses. "As of today you have done nothing to either monitor or treat the public pain," he said. "I want a program now, not tomorrow, because it should have been done yesterday."

He claimed the gaming board's continuing loss of staff to jobs in the casino industry is responsible for at least part of the hot-line delay. "This agency is becoming like the minor league for gambling enterprises," Grey said. "You groom them, they hire them."

A bill to forbid state gaming employees from taking casino jobs for three years was proposed by Gov. Jim Edgar in 1993 but never passed.

Johnson and Belletire said the hot-line project was sidetracked when the board sought bids and found no proposals for doing anything deeper than just answering the phone.

They then realized that a statewide catalog of counseling services must be compiled first.

"We didn't ask for the right thing in the first place," Belletire admitted.

But he and Johnson insisted the Gaming Board is not responsible for any deaths. …

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