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Brad Henry’s Legacy: Gambling Addictions

gambling-addictionOne of Brad Henry’s main campaign issues in 2002 was enacting a state lottery and, after being elected Governor, he made the lottery a priority in the 2003 legislative session.  The legislature approved a lottery proposal to be put on the 2004 general election ballot.  State Questions 705, which set up a lottery commission, and 706, which created a lottery trust fund, were both passed by voters.  The lottery then began in Oklahoma in 2005.

Also at Brad Henry’s urging, the legislature placed on the 2004 ballot a proposal to allow American Indian tribes to enter compacts with the state so they could provide additional types of gambling.  The tribal-state compact allowed eligible tribes to pay a monthly exclusivity fee to the state in exchange for the exclusive right to operate Class III gaming services, which includes Las Vegas-style slot machines and card games. The state question also set up provisions for a limited number of licensed racetracks to use electronic gaming machines.  Before the state question was approved, tribes were only permitted to run Class II gaming operations, such as bingo halls.

This proposal also passed, and anyone driving through Oklahoma can see the massive number of casinos we have here in Oklahoma, all with packed parking lots.  These casinos are a second home, maybe even a first one, for many Oklahomans.  I recall during a day of wildfires earlier this year one of the local news channels reported receiving phone calls from residents wanting to know if a casino threatened by wildfire had been damaged.

After the tribal-state compact was approved by voters, thirty-three tribes entered a compact with the state to operate Class III gaming since the state question passed, according to the state finance office’s gaming compliance unit.  Revenue from the Tribal Gaming Exclusivity Fees that tribes pay to the state have totaled more than $366 million during the six-year period.

The amount the state receives increased each year and 2010 was on track to exceed $118 million.  Of that money, 88 percent is earmarked for common education funding. The Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services receives $250,000 for gambling addiction services and the rest enters the state’s general fund.

Oh, yes, the addictions.  The by-product of gambling.  Is the revenue worth the cost?

Experts say there could be more than 100,000 problem gamblers in Oklahoma.  The Oklahoman has reported that the number of people seeking help for gambling addiction has increased 150 percent since voters approved gambling at racetracks and expanded betting at tribal casinos in 2004.

Gambling in Oklahoma has contributed more than $184 million to state government revenues, but at a cost to tens of thousands of residents who have become problem gamblers, say experts.  There have been more than 18,000 calls to Oklahoma’s Problem Gambling Helpline since 2007.

  • $7 billion — Last year’s estimated nation-wide social cost to families and communities from gambling-related bankruptcy, divorce, crime and job loss.
  • 48 percent — Gamblers Anonymous members who considered suicide.
  • 57 percent — Gamblers Anonymous members who admitted stealing to finance their gambling.
  • 85 percent — Approximate percentage of adults in the United States who have gambled at least once.
  • 60 percent — Approximate percentage of US adults who gambled within the last year.
  • 100 percent — The presence of a gambling facility within 50 miles roughly doubles the prevalence of problem and pathological gamblers.
  • Number 5 — Oklahoma’s ranking among states with the most casinos.
  • More than 100 — Tribal casinos in Oklahoma, four Oklahoma racetrack casinos and the statewide lottery.
“Oklahomans have lost their homes, spouses and retirement funds to gambling,” said Jo Ann Pearce, executive director of A Chance to Change, a state gambling treatment contractor that has seen a 50 percent increase this year in demand for services.

“It’s not uncommon to see hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenditures” by gamblers, said Wiley Harwell, director of the Oklahoma Association for Problem and Compulsive Gambling.

In a July 2008 article in The Oklahoman, Mark Bonney, a bankruptcy trustee, said that gambling addiction was responsible for 10 percent of the Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies in eastern Oklahoma.  Now, the number is closer to 15 percent, with gambling a contributing factor in another 5 percent.

“Most of the people I see are making between $30,000 and $50,000 a year, and they’re gambling about $10,000 a year,” Bonney said.

In a December 2010 interview, Brad Henry acknowledged there is still work needed to advance how the state treats and prevents gambling-related addictions and problems.  “I think there is more that can be done,” he said. “Absolutely there are people across the state suffering from all kinds of addictions — whether it is from gambling, prescription drugs, illicit drugs or alcohol. We don’t do enough to prevent and treat all kinds of addiction.”

There was gambling in Oklahoma before Brad Henry became Governor.  But, due to his efforts to expand gambling in our state, by the end of his second term there were countless lives on a path to destruction that might not have been, had it not been for Brad Henry. 

Well done, Governor.  Your legacy will have lasting effect on many lives.

4 comments to Brad Henry’s Legacy: Gambling Addictions

  • Bravo, Charles. You have touched on a subject not many Oklahomans like to approach. I think our entire state has a gambling problem. It started at the bingo halls of the Native Americans and they have progressed to full blown casinos. Add the lottery into the mix and it really stirs things up.

    I wrote a post last year about the lottery and tried to make the case that the ones who are hurt the most by the lottery are the ones who can least afford it. So much for helping the little guy.

    I wish there was a way to repeal the lottery and to remove the casinos, but that would take a statewide movement and I don’t see that happening.

  • I can’t see the state ever giving up the revenue, no matter the social cost. No government would ever give up that much money when they don’t have to, and a large percentage of the population don’t want them to.

    I’d be willing to bet (ha!) that the addiction and bankruptcy statistics are worse in the current economy. I’m personally aware of one woman in my medium-sized office who has lost her house due to her gambling and her husband committed suicide. And I see numerous people buying lottery tickets at the cafe/convenience store in our building that I know can’t even pay their bills.

    Being a Souther Baptist myself, as is Brad Henry, I don’t see how in the world he can go to church and look people in the eye. He seems to have no regrets at all for the social destruction he has brought up on the state for years to come.

  • Anonymous

    Here’s the bare bones truth: No one knows for certain the actual damage that has been done to Oklahoma families. I can only imagine it is far worse than anyone realizes. I remember very well when Brad Henry pushed this through, because I love gambling and I truly was hoping he would realize what he was doing to hurt people and would have a change of heart. He didn’t. In addition, I remember how the Tulsa World’s writers didn’t necessarily advocate gambling, but they certainly didn’t push hard against it. I personally wrote emails to the World, which didn’t go over very well with their writers – one in particular.

    People are responsible for their own choices, but Brad Henry can take pretty much full credit for putting the ‘handle’ in people’s hands. I know, I was one of them.


  • […] their property and their businesses due to gambling addictions.  Some have committed suicide.  I wrote a post about all this and the disingenuous efforts by Governor Henry and his supporters in the legislature to stave off the gambling problems.  They knew it would […]

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