Average gambling debt for Nebraska is a shocking amount
By the numbers, the Nebraska Lottery is a success.
Since it began operating Sept. 11, 1993, the lottery has brought in more than $357 million for beneficiaries like the Education Innovation Fund, Nebraska Scholarship Fund, Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund, Nebraska State Fair and the first half-million dollars plus 1 percent for the Compulsive Gambler's Assistance Fund.
But at what cost?
We were amazed to hear Monday that Nebraskans are racking up an average gambling debt of $26,722, according to the annual report from the Nebraska Gamblers Assistance Program in the Department of Health and Human Services.
You read that right; an average gambling debt more than 50 percent of the average income in our state, according to Scot Adams, director of the DHHS Division of Behavioral Health.
A problem during good times, gambling addiction is a disaster during times like the current recession, with many of those ruined by their weakness winding up on public assistance.
The number of calls to the 24-hour Problem Gambling Helpline asking for help because of financial problems resulting from gambling increased from 20 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2009. The hotline (1-800-522-4700) received an average of 178 calls a month in the last fiscal year.
The Gamblers Assistance Program paid out about $700,000 for outpatient treatment services to about 250 people last year.
We've always found it ironic that the lottery helps provide funding to treat the disease it causes.
The lottery is a tax on the gullible, funding programs that might not pass muster were they operated with direct, honest taxation.
State-sponsored gambling certainly isn't the only game in town -- casinos in adjoining states take in more than their share -- but it certainly provides the "gateway drug" for those predisposed to gambling addiction.