Problem gambling bill advanced

Lawmakers gave first-round approval March 4 to a bill that would make several changes to the utilization of gaming funds for services to the state’s problem gamblers.

LB6, introduced by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, would establish the Nebraska Commission on Problem Gambling within the state Department of Revenue. The nine-member commission would be required to develop operational standards for a Gamblers Assistance Program – also created by the bill – and would oversee the Compulsive Gamblers Assistance Fund.

Members, appointed by the governor from lists supplied by the General Affairs Committee, would include members of the medical and mental health care fields, as well as representatives from the banking and finance industry, education and consumers of problem gambling services.

Members would serve three-year terms and would be reimbursed for expenses.

The commission would:
• appoint the director of the Gamblers Assistance Program;
• evaluate the scope of problem gambling in Nebraska;
• contract with treatment providers for services; and
• create public awareness and outreach programs.

Krist said problem gamblers and their families have expressed concerns about the services currently available from the State Committee on Problem Gambling, which is located within the Division of Behavioral Health at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

The bill is similar to recent legislation revamping state oversight of the foster care system, Krist said, and is intended to provide the same type of oversight to the state’s problem gambling program.

Citizens were clear when they approved gaming in Nebraska that part of the revenue should be spent helping problem gamblers, he said.

“LB6 provides for restoration of appropriate services for Nebraska problem gamblers and their families,” Krist said.

Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff asked if issues within the problem gambling program could be resolved without moving it to another state agency.

“It’s a shame that we have to do this,” he said.

Krist said discussions regarding where to house the new commission would continue between general and select file, but that DHHS so far has not fulfilled its obligation to use gaming revenue to properly address the issue of problem gambling in Nebraska.

A General Affairs Committee amendment, adopted 34-0, made several technical changes to the bill and senators advanced LB6 on a 33-0 vote.

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