Lawsuit for illegal abuse targets Arkansas’ lack of funding for problem gambling programs

The Arkansas Racing Commission and the Department of Finance and State Administration have failed to meet their constitutional obligation to establish compulsive gambling disorder education and treatment programs, according to a complaint filed Wednesday .

Amendment 100 to the Arkansas Constitution requires the Racing Commission to provide at least $ 200,000 per year for programs, but it failed to do so, according to the lawsuit of plaintiff FaNeisha Yavette Mosley. Mosley is a counselor at Little Rock.

Voters approved the constitutional amendment in November 2018.

State Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin said Thursday Governor Asa Hutchinson authorized the use of $ 200,000 from the state’s rainy day fund for programs problematic gambling. The move requires approval from the Legislative Council, which will meet later this month.

Hardin said the ministry was unaware of the lawsuit and was in no way related to the decision to release the funds.

Amendment 100 authorized the Racing Commission to license four full-fledged casinos, which the commission did. Three casinos are operating in Hot Springs, Pine Bluff and West Memphis, while the licensed Russellville casino has yet to be built.

The lawsuit, filed by Denton & Zachary of Little Rock, states that “the defendants … Thousands of dollars [of] taxpayers’ money. “

The lawsuit argued that the state’s failure to establish the programs constitutes an unlawful exaction under Article 16, Section 13 of the Arkansas Constitution, making the case a class action lawsuit by the applicant on behalf of taxpayers.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the commission and the finance department to account, reimburse, indemnify, reward and reimburse all the money they have authorized to spend on gambling disorder programs for 2019- 22 and deposit these funds into an account to be used. only for these programs in the future.

The lawsuit was filed shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Hardin said Thursday that the finance department does not speak to the details of active litigation in which he is involved.

“We have always been committed to implementing the amendment 100 requirement related to problem gambling,” Hardin said.

“There have been many meetings, discussions and correspondence over the past year regarding the source of funding and how to adequately meet the requirement to provide treatment with the $ 200,000,” he said. in a written statement, adding that the ministry had long considered whether to request money from the rainy day fund.

PREVIOUS QUESTIONS

In recent weeks, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, in preparation for an article, has raised questions about the lack of funding for programs.

When asked if these issues played a role in the funding decision, Hardin said: “The need to meet the amendment 100 requirement has been a priority for us this year”.

“While the trial was not a factor in the progress announced today, questions from the Democrat Gazette over the past two weeks have only heightened our commitment to ensuring the requirement is met by timely, “he said.

Hardin told that newspaper in a written statement dated November 23 that the initial concern of state officials was the source of the funding.

“The funding was just not available in the Racing Commission budget,” Hardin said in this written statement.

“While the money could easily be used to support a helpline, our concern was whether that would meet the intent of ‘treatment’,” he said. “While drug addiction treatment is certainly available within the state, we have learned that there are very few resources dedicated specifically to treating problem gambling.”

Because of these factors, the $ 200,000 was not spent “while we are working to make it happen,” Hardin said on November 23.

BEFORE AMENDMENT 100

Prior to voter approval of Amendment 100, Nate Steel, an attorney for the Arkansas Driving Forward committee that promoted the ballot proposal, said the constitutional provision requiring at least $ 200,000 for problem gambling programs was intended at least to replace the funding of the legislative cut for these programs in 2015.

In 2015, Hutchinson signed a law to eliminate the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery’s $ 200,000 per year contribution to problem gambling treatment and education programs, thereby increasing the amount available for scholarships.

This bill, sponsored by Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, also reduced lottery payments to the then-Department of Higher Education for the administration of the funded Arkansas Academic Challenge scholarship program. by the lottery to “only the direct expenses of the department to administer the scholarships funding.”

At that time, Clark said he expected the law to raise at least $ 600,000 more per year for the lottery scholarship program.

Former Arkansas Lottery Commissioner John C. “Smokey” Campbell of Hot Springs has frequently complained about the lottery payments to the Department of Higher Education for the administration of the scholarship program and to the Legislative Audit Division for the audit of the lottery.

Campbell, who has served as the director of the racing commission since August 2015, does not recall making a request several years ago to eliminate the lottery ‘s $ 200,000 annual contribution to problem gambling programs, said Hardin.

Lobbyist Bruce Hawkins sent an email dated June 8, 2020 to Racing Commission attorney Byron Freeland, which read: “Afternoon Long Knocker.

“… As you and I discussed last month, our client, the AFMC-Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, would like to prepare a proposal for the Racing Commission for the required gambling helpline.” by amendment 100.

“Be happy to set up a call or whatever I can do to help put something on paper,” Hawkins wrote.

“I realize that the main concern is how or who is going to pay for it,” Hawkins wrote in the email. “I’m willing to bet you’re a ‘cold’ Smokey [Campbell] would prefer it not to be the Commission.

“I guess it comes later.”

OTHER PROGRAMS

Hardin noted that the lottery provides funding each year to the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling. Funding began in fiscal 2019, according to lottery records.

The lottery contract with the association each year is $ 14,985, while the additional expenses bring the annual total to $ 20,000, he said.

Lottery contracts with the association to answer calls from Arkansas to the National Problem Gambling Hotline, said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Problem Gambling Council.

Southland Casino Racing and Oaklawn Racing & Gaming each donated $ 12,500 per year to the National Council on Problem Gambling over several years to help fund the council’s hotline, which serves the entire United States. , including callers from Arkansas, he said.

COMMISSION BUDGET

Hardin said Thursday the general revenue budget for the Racing Commission for fiscal 2021, which ended June 30, was $ 1.75 million.

“In addition, millions of dollars are paid each year to the Racing Commission and then distributed as required by Amendment 100 to the racing purses,” he said. “For example, about $ 15 million was paid to the Racing Commission in fiscal 2021 and then distributed to the Oaklawn and Southland stock exchanges. The money from the purse could not be used for the $ 200,000 because amendment 100 makes it clear how it is to be distributed. “

When asked why the state did not allocate a portion of casino tax revenues to provide the money, Hardin said Thursday: “In many discussions regarding the compulsive gambling requirement, this possibility has been raised. considered.

“Casino tax revenues could ultimately be the source of the $ 200,000,” he said. Hours later he said, “The plan is to use Rainy Day’s $ 200,000 to get the program started and to put the money into the Racing Commission budget over the following years.”


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