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HOME > > Casino Supporters Block Child Support Collection Measure

Casino Supporters Block Child Support Collection Measure

9 March 2004

Las Vegas Sun

by Suzanne Struglinski

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration's proposal to withhold prize money from gambling winners who owe child support, an idea opposed by the gaming industry and Nevada lawmakers, was left out of the budget resolution approved by a Senate committee last week.

Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., who sits on the Senate Budget committee, said he and other senators could not support any resolution that contained such a proposal, spokesman Jack Finn said. Ensign said he made clear to the committee Chairman Don Nickels, R-Okla., that it should not go forward and did not think it would come back up again.

To help collect part of the $89 billion in past due child support payments, the administration revived an idea of looking up gaming winners' child support payment status if winnings had to be reported to the Internal Revenue Service. Former President Bill Clinton offered a similar proposal in 1994 and then 2000, but later backed off the plan.

Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and family in the Health and Human Services Department, said the agency estimates such a program could bring in $709 million in child support payments during the next five years.

"We are not saying that someone who is a non-custodial parent can't go to a gaming institution," Horn said. "What we are saying is that before you do, that you make sure you are up to date on your child support. If it does in fact discourage a parent from gambling with a child's financial security, that's another benefit."

In testimony submitted to the House Budget Committee last week, Reps. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., and Jon Porter, R-Nev., also objected to the idea.

"Every member of Congress is committed to making sure dependent children receive the support they needed and that parents fulfill their obligations to their children and community,' Porter said. "However, imposing a costly new regulatory requirement on hundreds of establishments, and establishing a national database requiring massive amounts of personal data and financial records would not significantly increase collections while threatening the privacy of millions of gamers and imposing massive costs on business and their employees."

Horn said the gaming institutions would have to check a federal website to see if the winner owed child support. The child support owed would be deducted from the winnings. Winners could appeal the decision. Horn said this is already done for lottery winners.

"The gaming establishment would be unreasonably burdened with the duties of a law enforcement agency, and all winning customers would be presumed to be persons not in compliance with a child support order," Berkley said. "This administration budget proposal is ill-conceived, creates unreasonable demands on gaming businesses and their employees, and sets alarming precedents."

Berkley said this would force casinos to take on "investigatory and enforcement duties" now entrusted to law enforcement and government agencies.

"It creates a new bureaucracy to process information and leaves the gaming business and the customer at the mercy of any mistakes or misinformation generated by that new bureaucracy," Berkley said. "Should banks check the court records of all customers making deposits or withdrawals? Must car dealers invoke the same requirements against their customers? The answer is no, but approval of the administration's proposal will open the door to further costly and unreasonable mandates on our business communities."

Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., also opposed the idea and does not want to see it in the 2005 budget, a spokeswoman said.

Geraldine Jensen, president of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support, known as ACES, said the group supported the proposal and pointed out that the similar low affecting lottery winners passed with little controversy in the late 1980s.

"It's the casinos," she said. "They think people won't want to come. It's very selfish and narrow minded."

"It doesn't seem fair to us that someone would walk away with thousands and thousands of dollars and their children would never benefit from any of it," Jensen said.

She disagreed with Nevada lawmakers' views on the proposal.

"It's sad they put the business community and taxes ahead of children, shame on them," Jensen said, adding the process would be set up the same way the casinos take tax information from winners. "If they can do it for government's taxes, they can do it for children."

Another version of the proposal sits in the Welfare Reform Reauthorization Bill, which has passed the House but still needs Senate approval.

Copyright © Las Vegas Sun. Inc. Republished with permission.


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