Gambling industry proposes alternative child support law

Posted March 10, 2009, at 8:36 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of Maine’s gambling industry said Tuesday that a bill proposing they collect child support from gambling winners goes too far, but Hollywood Slots suggested what it believes is a more practical way to improve collections.

“People who are gambling and winning and are in arrears on their child support should have those gambling winnings given over to their children,” said Sen. Deborah Simpson, D-Auburn, sponsor of the measure. She said her proposal was a “concept draft” to address the issue and would depend on the Department of Health and Human Services to establish rules to implement the measure.

She suggested the wage-garnishing procedure used to seize wages of parents that owe support could be a model.

“Just like employers send money to the department, [gambling operations] would send the money to the department,” Simpson said.

But some members of the Judiciary Committee expressed concern whether there is a practical way to go after gambling winnings.

“I have to say I am concerned that we are infringing on the ability of a legitimate business in their operations,” said Sen. David Hastings, R-Fryeburg. He said he supports efforts to collect child support, but does not want a business to be put in an improper role.

Barbara Van Burgel, director of the Office of Integrated Access and Support at DHHS, the agency that oversees child support efforts, said the agency always supports efforts to improve child support enforcement. But, she suggested this concept needs work.

“We would suggest the committee provide us the time to work with all the parties to come up with a mechanism,” she said.

Scarborough Downs opposed the measure. Robert Tardy, the lobbyist for the racetrack, described the bill as unworkable and said it could lead to a dangerous situation for track workers who tell winners they are not going to get their winnings as expected.

“This bill crosses the line when it asks a private citizen to confront a debtor and withhold monies that the debtor believes rightfully belongs to them,” he said. “It endangers the private citizen, our employee.”

Tardy said he has no love for “deadbeat dads” but argued the proposal is not practical and is unfair to racetracks and the state’s only slot machine gambling facility, Hollywood Slots Hotel and Raceway in Bangor.

“What this bill does is it seeks to deputize a private retailer, in this case a gaming retailer, into performing a state function, collecting child support,” said Mike Mahoney, lobbyist for Hollywood Slots. “This is different than what the lottery does in this area.”

He said the Maine State Lottery, a government agency, is the organization that tells a winner that any winnings have been seized for child support, not the retailer that sells the winning ticket.

But, Mahoney said, Hollywood Slots also is willing to send a copy of the W-2G form that winners of more than $1,200 must complete to get their winnings.

Mahoney said the forms are provided to Maine Revenue Services and the IRS on the regular tax-reporting schedule. He said providing the forms more frequently would allow DHHS collection agents to use their existing collection methods to go after the winnings.

How much could be collected from gambling or racetrack wagering is uncertain. The state already seizes lottery winnings, and State Lottery Director Dan Gwadosky said in 2008 there were 21 winners that owed $19,720 in child support and had those amounts seized to pay support obligations.

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