A late amendment to a bill that would fund problem gaming programs in Colorado has left those who advocate for gambling addiction treatment and prevention efforts with mixed feelings.
While the estimated $3 million that would be apportioned by the bill for a grant program is a stark improvement over Colorado’s previous funding of such programs, the Senate changed the wording for the allotment from “continuously” to “annually.” The change would mean funding for the program would have to be reapproved each year.
That was not a welcome development for advocates, who contend problem gaming funding “is often the last funded and the first cut.” They stress the need to make the funding secure instead of subject to year-to-year debate and lobbying.
The bill passed the House by a 53-12 vote Monday, then passed through the Senate, as amended, by a 25-8 vote Thursday night. The amended Senate bill still needs House approval before it would reach Gov. Jared Polis.
“We’re pleased to see Colorado has decided to address this long-neglected, important public health issue. That being said, we don’t feel that this is an appropriate way to go about it,” said Brianne Doura-Schawohl, a consultant who represented the National Council on Problem Gambling during legislative committee hearings on the bill.
“The intention of this legislation was to create and secure funding to address the needs of gambling addiction in the state. Having an open-ended grant program that needs to receive annual appropriation leaves this in a vulnerable state.”
House speaker questions the changes
House Speaker Alec Garnett, who sponsored the original bill, said the chamber “might adhere to our position” and refuse the Senate amendments, although no action was planned Friday.
“I’m not completely clear as to why an annual review is a good idea,” Garnett said. “I think, for the most part, the bill that came out of the House was great. It’s a monumental step forward. I will be meeting with the stakeholders to take a closer look at the Senate amendments.”
The bill’s Senate sponsor, Sen. Chris Hansen, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
Peggy Brown, president of the Problem Gambling Coalition of Colorado, said she was disappointed by the Senate’s action after lengthy negotiations had produced what was considered a compromise bill.
“My personal feeling is, I feel that all the stakeholders came together, and everybody agreed on the way this was to be done — and that’s a lot of people in those negotiations,” Brown said. “Everybody made concessions and gave up certain things — then, at the last minute, they do this.
“To me, that doesn’t feel good. It reeks of politics, reeks of control, reeks of power. And now the coalition, an all-volunteer organization, is going to have to pitch every year why we need the funding.”
Another stakeholder in those discussions, Colorado’s Division of Gaming, declined comment, based on a policy that prevents comment on pending legislation.