AUGUSTA, Maine — The House on Thursday soundly rejected a proposal to increase automatically the amount of funds the state receives from Hollywood Slots for gambling addiction.
The 106-33 vote came after lawmakers were told not a single person has sought help under the current program that started in 2006.
“We don’t have problem gamblers that have taken advantage of this,” said Rep. Linda Valentino, D-Saco. “So why are we increasing it from $50,000 to $250,000?”
Valentino signed the minority report from the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee that does increase the yearly allocation from $50,000 to $70,000 but does away with the yearly automatic increases in the majority report that would increase the allocation to $250,000 in 2023.
It also shifts the allocation from the Department of Public Safety to the Office of Substance Abuse Services. The House adopted that minority version of the bill after rejecting the majority proposal.
Valentino argued that if additional money is needed for addiction services because of a sudden increase in demand, lawmakers could increase the allocation in a future session.
“In the four years that we have set aside money for these services, no one has come forward and asked for help,” said Rep. Wright Pinkham, R-Lexington Township. “We should not be funding this program in increasing amounts through 2013 when we don’t know if anybody will come forward and ask for help.”
Rep. Pamela Trinward, D-Waterville, the co-chairwoman of the panel, said the state has the responsibility to offer an adequate gambling addiction program as it increases its reliance on revenues from gambling for the state budget. She said it is not only Hollywood Slots that has state sanctioned gambling, there is also the state lottery and all of the racetrack gambling in the state as well as unregulated gambling.
“There is a lot of gambling going on in Maine,” said Trinward, adding the Legislature should “not only present a program for the next few years, but to present a program that will be there in the future.”
Trinward said the majority of the committee agreed with the long-range approach particularly with the shifting of the allocation from Public Safety to the Office of Substance Abuse
“We think this is a responsible policy,” she said.
The current treatment program, operated by Day One, has used some of the funds allocated for addiction services to set up a database to track the problem and to train staff to provide gambling addiction services. So far, no services have been provided under the program.
“We should not ever, and particularly in these circumstances, earmark money for purposes for which there is no demonstrated need,” said Rep. Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, a member of the Appropriations Committee.
Rep. Mike Carey, D-Lewiston, who also serves on the committee, argued there is a problem with gambling addiction in Maine, but that it has not been identified. He criticized the current efforts to inform the public of the gambling help program.
But Valentino said there are several outreach programs under way including those from Web sites and pamphlets distributed at gambling locations.
The measure now goes to the Senate for its first consideration of the proposal.