PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Rhode Island will again fund a treatment program for compulsive gamblers, state legislative leaders announced Thursday, reversing a decision that earlier this year eliminated state support for the 11-year-old initiative.
The move comes after The Associated Press last week reported on the funding cut, which came as gambling is poised to expand in the region. Rhode Island voters will decide in the fall whether to allow the state’s two slot parlors to expand into full-fledged table games, and neighboring Massachusetts recently approved casino gambling.
House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed said they will direct $50,000 in legislative grants to the program operated by psychologists at Rhode Island Hospital. The Newport Grand and Twin River slot parlors also announced they will contribute another $50,000 for a total funding level of $100,000.
Since 2001, psychologists at the hospital have provided therapy to 1,600 problem gamblers who are uninsured or who lack the ability to pay for treatment. The state originally dedicated $150,000 a year to the program but the amount dropped to $67,000 in the most recent fiscal year that ended June 30.
This year, funding was cut entirely when lawmakers changed the way the state awards hospital grants.
Instead, lawmakers voted to require Newport Grand and Twin River to contribute $100,000 for problem gambling programs, but only if voters this fall approve referendums authorizing table games like blackjack and poker at the facilities. But there was no plan for funding the program for the rest of this year, or in the event the referendums fail.
“When the Speaker and I learned that this funding was inadvertently eliminated, we immediately found the resources to restore these essential services,” Paiva Weed said in a statement.
Bob Breen, the psychologist who directs the program, said he was pleased the state will avoid what he called a “monumentally stupid” decision to cut the funds. He said he’s already had to turn away potential patients because the funding had been eliminated.
The slot parlors opted to kick in money ahead of the November referendums to ensure there’s no gap in services, according to Newport Grand owner Diane Hurley and John Taylor Jr., chairman of the Twin River Board of Directors.
The state made $355 million last year from its lottery and its share of slot parlor revenues, but it spends far less than most states on problem gambling services, according to a 2010 survey of state programs by the Association of Problem Gambling Service Administrators. In 2010 Rhode Island spent less than 10 cents per capita on problem gambling treatment programs, compared to a national average of 34 cents.