Peggy Brown found it tough to contain her giddiness Thursday.
State House Bill 22-1402, which will provide an approximate $2.87 million boost to Colorado’s responsible gaming fund, was approved by the legislature late the night before the 2022 session came to a close Wednesday.
It now will be signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis. And the much-needed influx of cash and resources to combat the Centennial State’s growing problem gambling issue will be available in 2023.
“We’re all so excited,” Brown, the president of the non-profit Problem Gambling Coalition of Colorado, said during a Thursday phone interview. “It took a lot of time and energy (to get the bill through), but it’s going to work.
“… We’ll make it fit. It’s a good piece of legislation to keep up with the need, and there certainly is a need here.”
Securing annual funding is next challenge
The Responsible Gaming Grant Program bill was introduced in late April by outgoing House Speaker Alec Garnett. It was co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Hansen.
En route to the governor’s desk, the grant bill did take a detour with the state Senate adding a trio of amendments on May 5. The most notable of those amendments changed the grant allotment from “continuously” to “annually.”
That didn’t sit well with Garnett, Brown and other responsible gaming advocates. But, with the end-of-session deadline looming, the House did pass the amended version late Tuesday night.
Neither Garnett or Hansen could be reached for comment Thursday.
Still, the long-stated goal was raising the state’s responsible gaming funding from the current — and “unacceptable” — $130,000 to nearly $3 million.
HB22-1402 will do that — just as long as the state’s need is demonstrated on an annual basis.
“That’s hard for us to go from continuous appropriations to annual appropriations,” Brown said. “… We’re going to have to figure out a way and justify that money every year.”
The grant money is slated to come from three revenue sources:
- $2.5 million from Colorado’s share of the limited gaming fund
- Undistributed money from the state’s Hold Harmless Fund
- $200,000 from the Colorado Lottery’s responsible gaming fund
The Colorado House and Senate will receive yearly reports from the Colorado Department of Revenue on what is being done with the grant money.
‘All kind of fluid right now’
So what’s the next step?
First, Brown was going to take time Thursday to read through the final bill.
Then, on Friday, Brown said the PGCC board has a major initial strategy and goal-setting meeting planned. The board of the all-volunteer PGCC represents a variety of interests — from the state to the casino industry and even the Colorado Lottery.
“It’s all kind of fluid right now,” Brown said. “And we all have to get our feet on ground. We’ll eventually need to get some input from the (Colorado) Division of Gaming on how this grant money is going to be appropriated.
“But, for right now, we try for some clear direction from the board and what (it) wants to do. We’ll get that aligned with our mission.”
Top priorities: Getting info out, training counselors
Topping the initial to-do list, Brown said, will be “getting information out” to the state’s counties on the money that is expected to be available. And “how best they can use it to set up programs to help problem gamblers.”
Brown also said increasing the number of nationally certified gambling counselors in Colorado is a must as well. And that process starts with training.
That’s a must with calls to the PGCC’s contracted-staffed 24/7 problem gambling helpline (800-522-4700) seeing a near-50-percent uptick in recent years.
“The PGCC isn’t looking to create an empire — that’s not what we do,” Brown said. “Certainly not all the money is going to funnel through us. We were just one of the driving forces in getting this through.
“We just want to continue to do what we can to do our part. Try to get people the funds in the right places. That’s how I see our role.”
Brown stresses “there’s much work ahead us” in the Centennial State’s problem gambling fight. But, compared to the outlook only a few weeks ago, optimism abounds.
“It’s a great, great step with more money available,” Brown said. “Not only that, but there’s been a lot of talk here in the state recently about problem gambling and acknowledgement that we have a problem.
“Acknowledging the problem is always the first step in getting something done.”