13,000 welfare recipients accessed cash in casinos

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by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @cjingalls

KING5.com

Posted on January 26, 2011 at 6:26 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 26 at 6:41 PM

Here's a statistic that might surprise you: 13,000 of Washington state's welfare recipients withdrew cash last year in a casino.

That information is revealed in new records obtained by the KING 5 Investigators.
 
Gambling with welfare money is against the law. But records show that at least 20,465 separate withdrawals of welfare cash were made at Washington casinos in one year. 13,000 different welfare clients made those withdrawals, with some making several cash withdrawals during the year.

The Department of Social and Health Services, which oversees the welfare program, requested the detailed financial report after the KING 5 Investigators reported last year that an estimated 2 million welfare dollars were withdrawn in casinos.

At the time, DSHS Secretary Susan Dreyfus pledged to dig deeper and find out which clients were behind all those withdrawals.

“I want to know if we have people and we need to remind them what the laws are," Dreyfus said last September.

The records were ordered by DSHS from the bank that issues the welfare cash cards.

Called EBT cards, they can be used like debit cards to withdraw cash from virtually any ATM.

The new ATM data shows that of 68,000 welfare cash clients in the state, at least 20 percent withdrew cash at a casino last year. Even worse, DSHS expects that percentage to grow as it receives data from more casinos and card rooms.

After our stories in September, most large casinos in Washington banned the use of EBT cards in casinos. It's unclear if DSHS has disciplined any of the 13,000 clients who have been frequenting casinos.

The stories have prompted some legislators to ask about abuses of welfare cash at other adult-oriented businesses.

Wednesday night at 11 pm, the KING 5 Investigators will show some of the other questionable places where welfare cash is flowing and explain what some lawmakers want to do about it.

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