Director seeks probe of allegations by outgoing official over problem-gambler program
The director of the West Virginia Lottery asked for an investigation Tuesday of allegations over the Lottery's handling of the state's Problem Gambler Help Network.
Lottery Director John Musgrave asked for the investigation by the Legislative Auditor after the head of First Choice Health Systems of Charleston criticized a new contract that will give the Lottery more oversight over the 7-year-old help-line program.
Mia Moran-Cooper, who is resigning at the end of the month as First Choice's executive director, told lawmakers Tuesday that she is concerned the new contract gives the Lottery Commission too much control over the problem-gambler program.
Moran-Cooper, who stressed that she was not speaking on behalf of First Choice, said she could document 20 to 30 instances over the years where Lottery officials had tried to influence First Choice policies.
She cited instances ranging from complaints that the Lottery logo was too small on billboards for the help line, to a request for names of Lottery employees who had called the help line.
That request was withdrawn after First Choice stressed that the identities of all callers are confidential.
"I don't believe the problem gamblers hot line should be a marketing arm of the West Virginia Lottery," she told the Joint Committee on Government and Finance.
Afterward, Musgrave said he would ask the Senate president and House speaker to initiate a legislative investigation of Moran-Cooper's allegations "so that all concerns raised during the meeting can be fully resolved."
Earlier, Musgrave told the committee that West Virginia's problem-gambler help line is considered one of the best programs in the nation, and will remain one of the best when a new contract begins July 1.
First Choice has operated the program since 2000, and presumably will continue to operate it, as the sole bidder for the new contract.
"We've been funding this program for quite some time, and it's been recognized as an excellent program," Musgrave said.
The Lottery provides $1.5 million a year to treat problem gamblers, an amount that could increase to as much as $2 million annually if voters authorize racetrack table gaming.
Previously, the Department of Health and Human Resources administered the program, and will continue to act in a consulting role through a memorandum of understanding with the Lottery, Musgrave said.
Asked by Delegate Carrie Webster, D-Kanawha, what state agency should have oversight of the help line, Moran-Cooper said, "If DHHR doesn't want it, which seems to be the message I'm getting — anybody but the Lottery."
Musgrave told the committee that the Lottery wants its logo featured on help-line materials because it is proud of its sponsorship of the program.
However, Moran-Cooper said she believes the logo discourages problem gamblers from calling the help line.
"It would be like putting the Marlboro logo on a billboard to stop smoking," she said.
Meanwhile, Steve Burton, who will replace Moran-Cooper as executive director of First Choice, stressed that her comments do not represent the opinion of First Choice.
"We feel the integrity of the program will remain and we will continue to provide a good service to West Virginians," Burton said.
"Basically, for the past seven years, we have provided one of the best problem-gambler programs in the country, and one reason for that is we're the fourth-highest-funded program in the country," he said.
First Choice issued a news release later Tuesday that said many of Moran-Cooper's recent statements about the problem-gamblers program were "unsubstantiated, misleading or false."