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‘This has to change’: Culinary Union backs lottery to fund mental health

Updated February 23, 2023 - 5:00 pm

Las Vegas resident Ivan Lopez, 20, recalls how he benefited from therapy in high school and how he wishes there were greater access to mental health resources for the youth in Nevada.

“I see my friends and other young people struggling with their mental health,” said Lopez, a casino worker at Caesars Palace and member of the Culinary union. “We were all going through the same thing. … We have to take this crisis seriously and make changes now before it’s too late for each kid and adult.”

Lopez and other members of the Culinary Local 226, which represents 60,000 workers in Las Vegas and Reno, are campaigning in support of Assemblyman C.H. Miller’s legislation to amend the Nevada Constitution to allow the state to establish a lottery system, the revenue from which would go toward youth mental health and education programs in Nevada.

“Nevada must invest in mental health and education in Nevada’s mental health system,” Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary union, said at a press conference Thursday announcing the union’s 2023 legislative priorities. “They’ve been underfunded for decades and has been the worst in the nation for years. It is particularly bad for Nevada’s children.”

In 2021 and 2022, the nonprofit organization Mental Health America ranked Nevada as the worst in the nation for overall mental health based on access to care and the prevalence of mental health, and Nevada’s public schools are among the most poorly funded in the U.S., Pappageorge said.

“This has to change,” he said. “It’s clear that long-term capacity building for mental health and education is needed, and a specific source of consistent funding is critical.”

Casinos opposed in past

Nevada is only one in five states without a state lottery system, and many Nevadans travel across state lines to purchase lottery tickets, sending millions of dollars in potential revenue out of Nevada. There have been more than two dozen attempts in the past to allow for a state lottery in Nevada, but all have failed. The gambling industry has lobbied against the idea.

Pappageorge said he has not heard opposition from the casino industry yet, and he thinks this initiative will be different from other previous attempts to implement a state lottery.

“This is 2023, not the 1970s and the 1980s,” he said. “And we’ve got a crisis, and it affects everyone including gaming, gaming companies and all of their employees.”

If the Nevada Legislature and Gov. Joe Lombardo refuse to pass the legislation, the Culinary union will look at circulating an initiative petition, which must go before voters in two separate elections to take effect, Pappageorge said. If the Legislature does pass the resolution this year, it must go before lawmakers again in 2025 before it can get onto the ballot in 2026.

Fighting for rent controls

The union will begin knocking on doors, talking with Republicans, independents and Democrats about the lottery system initiative as well as its other legislative priority: neighborhood stability, which would implement a 5 percent rent increase cap on landlords.

The bill, carried by state Sen. Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, would also require a 90-day notice for rent increases.

“As renters, we must know that we can have stability and be able to afford to house our families and have opportunities to save and own a home one day,” Pappageorge said.

Carlos Padilla, a Culinary union member who works at Treasure Island as a baker, said his rent was $1,200 per month for a three-bedroom home a couple of years ago. He now pays $1,675 and next month will have to pay $1,800.

“I asked the landlord, maybe it was a mistake,” Padilla said. “She told me there is no law in this state that says the landlord cannot raise the rent prices more than they have to.”

The union supported a ballot question in North Las Vegas last year to establish rent control in that city, but officials rejected the petition for having too few signatures.

Contact Jessica Hill at jehill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jess_hillyeah on Twitter.

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