SEATTLE - In the wake of a KING 5 Investigators report, the head of the state's Department of Social and Health Services is taking steps to stop the use of state-issued ATM cards at gambling halls through the state.
Susan Dreyfus tells KING 5 News that by working with J.P. Morgan Chase & Company, the state is shutting down the ability to get cash at selected gambling establishments by using the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) ATM cards.
On Wednesday, the KING 5 Investigators released data they compiled about welfare dollars flowing through gambling halls across Washington State. They found welfare cash circulating in 113 casinos and card rooms in Washington in the month of July, alone. That’s nearly one fifth of the casinos, card rooms and bingo halls in the state.
The KING 5 Investigators analyzed public records that track the locations of all ATM machines accessed by welfare recipients. Cash recipients, generally the most needy, receive their funds on an ATM card. The investigative team cross-referenced the locations of all ATM transactions in July with the addresses of all casinos and card rooms.
Gambling with welfare money is one of the few limitations the program places on recipients’. It’s prohibited by state law.
In Wednesday’s story, Asst. DSHS Secretary Troy Hutson said he couldn’t assume that just because someone withdrew money at a casino they are actually gambling. He also said the fraud might be too expensive for the agency given the unprecedented budget cuts it is facing.
But DSHS Secretary Dreyfus said even the possibility that someone is using the state issued ATM cards to get cash to use at the gambling halls is not only "inappropriate" but illegal.
"I want to shut down every ATM in adult gambling establishments that has EBT access," said Dreyfus. "It's not ok to use state benefits to gamble. And if that is the perception, if that's the reality and if we in any way facilitate that by having ATM access within casinos and people are improperly using their EBT it has to stop. And, so I hope by taking away the access that's the first big step in getting that done."
The Washington Indian Gaming Association has thrown its support to the move. In a letter to Governor Gregoire, the association says it pledges support for the action, saying "the intergrity of our gaming operations is very important to us and we work had to maintain it."