State officials are seeking proposals from providers of educational and treatment services for Arkansans with gambling disorders, more than 3½ years after voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring the Arkansas Racing Commission to provide at least $200,000 a year for gambling disorder and treatment programs.
Vena Schexnayder, chairwoman of the board for the fledgling Arkansas Problem Gaming Council, said "we are going to submit a proposal" in response to the state's request for proposals for a vendor to provide these programs.
The nonprofit council, formed in March 2021, plans to contract with four behavioral health agencies in the state and an out-of-state behavioral health treatment provider through the National Council on Problem Gambling in its proposal to the state, she said.
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said the national council received an application from the Arkansas Council on Problem Gambling to become the Arkansas state affiliate chapter, and the national council's board of directors will vote on it July 20.
"We expect them to be approved and will welcome the presence of an active advocate for people with gambling problems in the Natural State," he said.
Schexnayder said serving the state with $200,000 to provide problem-gambling treatment and educational programs would be difficult, "but we are going to be creative and get it done."
"Two hundred thousand dollars could literally go just for Pulaski County," she said.
Forty-one states and Washington, D.C., have some funding directed toward problem-gambling services as of 2021, Whyte said. Schexnayder said that "we don't have a good up-to-date" estimate on the number of problem gamblers in Arkansas.
The Arkansas Scholarship Lottery provides funding each year to the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling to answer calls from Arkansas to the Arkansas Problem Gambling Helpline and to receive monthly reports about the calls, said Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance and Administration.
Under the most recent contract signed with the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling, the lottery pays $1,665 each month upon receipt of a monthly report and invoice, which amounts to $19,980 a year, he said.
In fiscal 2021 that ended June 30, 2021, a total of 4,634 calls were received from Arkansas, Hardin said.
"An example of a busy month is March 2022 with 443 calls, while August 2021 was a slower month at 328 calls," he said.
Neither the lottery nor the racing commission has estimates on the number of problem gamblers in Arkansas, Hardin said.
In fiscal 2021 that ended June 30, 2021, about $5.84 billion was wagered at the state's casinos, he said. In fiscal 2021, the lottery reported selling about $631 million in scratch-off and draw-game tickets. The figures for fiscal 2022 that ended June 30 aren't available yet.
Whyte said Southland Casino Racing has been a generous donor to the National Council on Problem Gambling through its parent company Delaware North, and Oaklawn Racing & Gaming also has been a generous donor to the National Helpline
Carlton Saffa, chief market officer for the Saracen Casino Resort in Pine Bluff, said "we recently made a decision to join at the gold level directly from Saracen" to help support the National Helpline.
The state's Office of State Procurement issued a request for proposals from providers of education and treatment programs for gambling disorders on behalf of the state Department of Finance and Administration and the Arkansas Racing Commission on June 27.
The finance department and the Office of State Procurement are contacting behavioral health and addiction treatment companies regarding the request for proposals concerning problem gambling, Hardin said.
The deadline for providers to submit proposals is 2 p.m. Aug. 2, and the state tentatively plans to award the contract Nov. 1.
The Office of State Procurement intends to award a contract to a single contractor and the initial term of the contract will be for one year with a maximum budget of $200,000.
By mutual agreement of the contractor and the state, the contract may be renewed for up to six additional one-year terms. The budget could be increased or decreased at each optional renewal of the contract.
Amendment 100 to the Arkansas Constitution, approved by voters in November 2018, requires the Arkansas Racing Commission to provide at least $200,000 annually for gambling disorder treatment and educational programs.
In addition, Amendment 100 authorized the Racing Commission to license four full-fledged casinos, which the commission has done. Three casinos operate in Hot Springs, Pine Bluff and West Memphis, while the licensed casino in Russellville hasn't been constructed yet.
On Dec. 17, the Legislative Council approved Gov. Asa Hutchinson's request to use $200,000 from the state's rainy-day fund for the problem-gambling programs.
Hutchinson asked for the rainy-day fund transfer in a letter dated Dec. 2 to state Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Larry Walther, who forwarded the request in a letter dated Dec. 3 to the subcommittee's co-chairmen, Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, and Rep. Michelle Gray, R-Melbourne.
The governor's letter requesting the fund transfer came after a lawsuit was filed Dec. 1 by the Denton & Zarchary firm of Little Rock, representing plaintiff FaNeisha Yavette Mosley, against the Arkansas racing commissioners and director John Campbell and Walther.
But Hardin said in December the lawsuit was in no way related to the decision to seek the rainy-day funds for the problem-gambling programs.
The lawsuit alleged an illegal exaction by the defendants for their misapplication of taxpayer funds in failing to provide an annual amount of at least $200,000 for compulsive gambling disorder treatment and compulsive gambling disorder educational programs contrary to Amendment 100 to the Arkansas Constitution.
In response to the lawsuit, attorneys representing the racing commissioners, Campbell and Walther and the defendants denied any wrongdoing and have asked for the lawsuit to be dismissed.
The lawsuit claims that prior to adoption of casino gambling in Arkansas, it was estimated that 2.2% or 50,226 Arkansans are believed to manifest a gambling problem generating social costs of $1,200 per person.
In a court filing in January in response to the lawsuit, Byron Freeland, an attorney representing the Racing Commission and Campbell, wrote that the allegations are denied.
"Defendants deny that any governmental entity for the State of Arkansas or any entity recognized by law made the estimates referred to ... in the complaint," Freeland wrote.
Whyte said last week in a written statement that "We do generally use the 2.2% figure which is a national average for the US based on a compilation of state & national prevalence studies.
"The social cost estimates seem right as well," he said.
Hardin said funding for the first year of the state's problem-gambling program will come through the rainy-day fund.
The $200,000 in rainy-day funding "will not be released until a company is formally selected and the contract signed," he said.
General revenue included in the Racing Commission's budget will be used to fund the program in subsequent years, Hardin said.
In the fiscal session earlier this year, the Legislature authorized $200,000 for the program to be funded through the state's Revenue Stabilization Act that prioritizes the distribution of state general revenue to state-supported programs in fiscal 2023 that started in July, he said.
Before voter approval of Amendment 100 in 2018, Nate Steel, a counsel for the Arkansas Driving Forward committee that promoted proposal, said that constitutional provision requiring at least $200,000 for the problem-gambling programs was intended as a minimum to replace the funding the Legislature cut for these programs in 2015.
In 2015, Hutchinson signed legislation to eliminate the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery's $200,000-a-year contribution to compulsive gambling treatment and education programs, thus increasing the amount of money available for scholarships.
That measure, sponsored by Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, also reduced the lottery's payments to the then-Department of Higher Education for administering the lottery-financed Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship program to "only direct expenditures of the department to administer scholarship funding."
At that time, Clark said he expected the law would raise at least $600,000 more a year for the lottery scholarship program.
Under the request for proposals issued by the state Office of Procurement, the provider providing educational and treatment programs for gambling disorders will be required to develop and implement a comprehensive gambling educational program and designate treatment providers to provide statewide educational and treatment services for Arkansas residents who have a problem with gambling or gambling disorders.
The prospective provider is required to have a minimum of one year of experience successfully treating problem-gambling disorders and have the ability to develop and sustain clinical treatment and recovery support services for people experiencing a gambling disorder as well as people affected by a gambling disorder such as family members and/or significant others as well as have the ability to integrate gambling awareness into other programs as deemed necessary by the finance department and racing commission.
A review committee, which hasn't been named, will review and score proposals with a final decision to be made and announced between Sept. 19 and Oct. 4, Hardin said.