Cuomo Calls For Legalized Sports Betting

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants 2019 to be the year legalized sports betting comes to New York state, but an audit by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli casts doubt on how well the state can treat those with problem gambling addiction.

DiNapoli recently released an audit of the state’s problem gambling treatment programs overseen by the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. Problem gambling treatment was added to OASAS’ portfolio of programs in 2005 and includes the condition known as “pathological” or “compulsive” gambling, a progressive addiction characterized by increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet money more frequently, restlessness or irratibility when trying to stop gambling, “chasing” losses and a loss of control mainfested by continued gambling in spite of increasing negative consequences. Consequences affecting those who seek treatment include work absenteeism, lost job productivity, family estrangement and criminal activities to support addiction.

OASAS offers 20 problem gambling-only outpatient programs and, starting in 2016, inpatient services at six OASAS addiction treatment centers while DiNapoli noted there are treatment programs available outside of OASAS. DiNapoli said the comptroller’s office has further problems in determining if OASAS has enough problem gambling treatment capacity for those who want it now, before sports betting is legalized.

“As mentioned, many problem gambling treatment services are available outside the OASAS treatment system — that is, through private practitioners and county-funded programs,” the audit states. “Private practitioners can bill insurance, and according to OASAS officials, some bill based on a sliding fee scale. However, OASAS does not know the location or number of these private practitioners, including those who bill on a sliding fee scale. Further, OASAS does not have oversight of private practitioners and currently does not make referrals to them through its HOPEline. Nor does OASAS make referrals to county-funded programs because, without a co-occurring diagnosis, individuals with problem gambling cannot be treated at these facilities. As such, OASAS lacks assurance that problem gambling treatment programs are reasonably accessible to all state residents regardless of their ability to pay.”

Forty counties — including Chautauqua and Cattaraugus — do not have an OASAS problem gambling treatment program, though the Chautauqua Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council does offer guidance for those with a gambling addiction and Chautauqua County’s Crisis Services hotline is available to answer calls from those struggling with gambling addiction. The closest problem gambling treatment facility is in Erie County.

OASAS is planning to open seven planned regional resource centers that is responsible in part for facilitating problem gambling awareness, community education, prevention, treatment and recovery support through referrals. OASAS is also expanding its treatment options to include a private practitioner referral service and plans to work with local gambling facilities to address problem gambling within the facility.

The problem, according to DiNapoli, is that OASAS has not conducted a comprehensive needs assessment or social impact study to identify how many people need problem gambling treatment of where those people are since 2006, even though four commerical casinos opened in New York in 2013.

“Without a more current needs assessment or social impact study, OASAS may not have an accurate understanding of where services are most needed and may incorrectly allocate its services,” the audit states. “OASAS officials attribute the lack of more recent studies to inadequate funding. For comparison purposes, they noted the availability of federal and state funding for need/prevalence studies for programs such as opioid addiction — funds that are not similarly available for problem gambling.”

OASAS officials agreed with the audit’s request for a comprehensive needs assessment and social impact study for problem gambling and said it would do so when funding is available.

“In the interim, OASAS has initiated a project to add questions to existing reporting requirements in our county planning system to capture problem gambling needs reported by counties which will go live in March 2019 allowing OASAS to specifically report on problem gambling needs in 2020,” Trisha R. Schell-Guy, OASAS deputy counsel, wrote in the agency’s reply. “Further, OASAS is in the process of procuring a vendor to conduct a statewide Youth Development Survey of school age youth on the prevalence of their substance abuse and gambling activities. These survey results will help identify needs of youth statewide.”

OASAS officials also agreed with the comptroller’s recommendation to make sure problem gambling programs, both through OASAS and other providers, are accessible to all state residents regardless of their ability to pay.

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