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State ignores health dangers of gambling

Recent articles in the Albuquerque Journal and the Santa Fe New Mexican have reported on the failure of the state government to address or respond to the problem of gambling addiction in New Mexico. The N.M. Department of Health would be the likely agency to help solve the problem, but it turns a blind eye to the addiction.

On the Department of Health website there are three links on the home page to big reports on alcohol, tobacco, illegal drug and prescription drug addictions, but not a single reference to gambling addiction. If you click on “Topics” at the top of the home page you are directed to hundreds of topics, including reports on the previously mentioned addictions, but not ONE single reference to gambling or gambling addiction. Under the category of “Health Data” on the home page there are about half a dozen reports on substance abuse, many others on alcohol, illegal drugs and prescription drugs, but not ONE report on gambling addiction. If you do a global search for “gambling” on the health department website, out of thousands of articles there is only one article that incidentally mentions gambling but gives no details.

If you consider the Health Department’s printed material, not only does it not give advice, support or other useful information on gambling addiction, it also fails to recognize gambling addiction as a health problem in New Mexico. Gambling addiction does not seem to exist in New Mexico if you rely on information from the Health Department.

The truth of the matter is there are tens of thousands of gambling addicts in New Mexico causing untold personal suffering and economic ruin. State studies since 1997 have estimated there are between 30,000 and 45,000 problem gamblers in the state. If there were 30,000 cases of influenza or Hantavirus, the state would mobilize in an immediate and spectacular way to address and remedy the problem. But these health problems do not contribute millions of tax dollars to the state or have dozens of high-paid lobbyists plying the Legislature to protect their existence.

A Compulsive Gambling Council was created by Gov. Bill Richardson and met numerous times in 2006 and made numerous recommendations. It recommended a permanent office under the Health Department and increased taxation of non-tribal gambling to fund treatment and prevention. It recommended education of seniors and teens on the dangers involved and collection of records on the impact that gambling has on suicide, bankruptcies, divorce and domestic violence. None of these or any of their other recommendations have ever been implemented.

I was not an official member of the original council, but I was invited to attend and participate in its deliberations. The original plan that was drafted was much tougher than the final report, recommending, among other things, restriction or elimination of the more toxic forms of gambling – slot machines. Gambling industry representatives on the council made sure the tougher standards were watered down. Still, there was much of value in the final report.

The council was required by law to meet each year and submit an annual report to the governor, appropriate legislative committees and the legislative council. The Compulsive Gambling Council has not met since 2009 and hasn’t submitted a report since then. The state has absolutely failed in its responsibility to protect many of its most vulnerable citizens.

Stop Predatory Gambling New Mexico calls on the state Legislature, in coordination with the governor, to establish a permanent office under the Health Department responsible for gambling addiction prevention and treatment, and give it the resources necessary to help our citizens.

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

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