Gambling addicts could lose big in state budget cuts

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EUGENE, Ore. - Oregon's budget deficit is forcing massive cuts across the board, and problem gamblers stand to lose big.

As part of a worst case scenario exercise, all state agencies were asked to cut 30 percent of their spending. The Department of Human Services added treatment and prevention programs for gambling addicts to that list of cuts.
"I don't think I would make it. I think I would end up back gambling like so many others," said Tammy Wolfer, a Drain resident.

Wolfer is a recovering gambling addict who's making a bet -- not on a hand of poker, but on the future for problem gamblers in Oregon.

"There's a lot of people out there who are going to end up in divorce, end up losing everything they have, end up taking their own lives," she said.

If the 2010 worst case scenario proposed state budget passes, gambling treatment, prevention and support programs would be eliminated. Places like Emergence Addiction Counseling in Eugene would shut their doors on those down on their luck.

"I believe it's the state's responsibility, if they're going to sell and promote gambling, that they provide prevention and treatment for those folks it affects," said Michele Tantriella-Modell, program director at Emergence.

Oregon law mandates one percent of the net proceeds from the Oregon lottery be dedicated to a problem gambling fund, but with a $4.4 billion budget shortfall, legislative leaders are trying to figure out where to make cuts.

KVAL News called Gov. Ted Kulongoski's office Tuesday to find how these lotto dollars could be taken away.

"The law would have to be changed before the legislature could take one percent of the lottery dollars away from the problem gambling fund," said Jillian Schoene, spokesperson. "This is a legislative decision to be made and its not appropriate for the governor's office to comment at this point in time."

To be fair, KVAL News called House Speaker Dave Hunt's office. Spokesperson Geoff Sugerman said not all of the worst case suggestions will be cut from the budget. Lawmakers will decide what to remove in the budget planning process, but Sugerman couldn't speculate if problem gaming treatment programs would be cut.

"Over time, voters have passed legislation that eats up large parts of the budget. We're getting to a point where the voters' decisions themselves will eventually come in conflict with each other," said Sugerman.

Beginning next Monday, representatives from the Senate Ways and Means Committee will be hitting the road and holding town hall meetings all over Oregon. They'll be asking voters for feedback on what programs need to be protected in the upcoming budget, and what needs to be cut.

There will be a town hall meeting in Eugene on Friday, May 1, 2009, at the University of Oregon. It will be held in Prince Lucien Campbell 180 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. All are welcome to attend.