Casinos, the New Jersey Lottery, racetracks, off-track betting and, soon perhaps, sports betting and Internet gambling ... New Jersey offers lots of ways for gamblers to place a bet.

That means the state also offers lots of ways for problem gamblers to destroy their lives.

Welcome to the topic just about no one in New Jersey wants to talk about today.

In 1978 when the first casino opened in Atlantic City, New Jersey "set the standard" for providing services for problem gamblers, going far beyond what Nevada then provided, Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, recently told NJSpotlight. But that's not the case anymore.

New Jersey has tough underage gambling laws, and casino advertisements must include the phone number for the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey's hotline - 1-800-GAMBLER. But funding for the council and treatment services for problem gamblers has lagged while gambling has grown in New Jersey. And the state now ranks far below most other states in the amount of money it provides for dealing with problem gambling.

According to the 2010 National Survey of Publicly Funded Problem Gambling Services, New Jersey tied for 23rd out of 38 states in the amount spent per capita on services for problem gamblers.

On the surface, New Jersey seems to have a reasonable funding mechanism for the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey.

Every year, the Legislature appropriates $600,000 for the council; the Casino Control Commission then reimburses the state's general fund with the first $600,000 in fines levied against casinos. That way, the council gets its $600,000, even if that much in fines is not generated.

The council also gets 50 percent of forfeited casino winnings, up to $50,000 per forfeiture - a number that obviously can vary year to year.

But the highly popular and quite lucrative New Jersey Lottery - here's the problem - kicks in a mere $10,000 to the council. The Atlantic City casino industry is funding its share, if you ask us. The contribution from the lottery - the state's own "casino" - is an outrage.

All told, the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey operates on approximately $860,000 a year. California spends $8.7 million on problem gambling. Even Delaware, with a population one-tenth of New Jersey's, spends $1 million.

Problem gamblers don't arouse much sympathy, especially in a gambling town. But, like other addictions, it is a disease - and one that can destroy lives and families.

Donald Weinbaum, the head of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, recently asked the Assembly Budget Committee to dedicate 2 percent of new lottery revenues to compulsive-gambling programs. That sounds like a reasonable request.

Weinbaum told the committee that almost every other state provides more money from its lottery to help problem gamblers.

As it stands now, the New Jersey Lottery simply isn't paying for its fair share of the compulsive-gambling problem.


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