California welfare recipients are able to use state-issued debit cards to withdraw cash on gaming floors in more than half of the casinos in the state, a Los Angeles Times review of records found.
The cards, provided by the Department of Social Services are supposed to help recipients feed and clothe their families, work in automated teller machines at 32 of 58 tribal casinos and 47 of 90 state-licensed poker rooms, the review found.
The casinos are listed on a Department of Social Services website that allows welfare recipients to search for addresses of ATMs where they can withdraw cash provided under the Temporary Aid for Needy Families program. The monthly grants start at $694 and go up; most of the ATMs impose a withdrawal limit of about $300 per day.
The LA Times compared the addresses on that website with lists of tribal casinos and state-licensed poker rooms published on the California Gambling Control Commission’s website.
It’s not clear which casinos are most frequently patronized by welfare recipients because social services officials denied a January request from The Times for data showing transaction information from all of the ATMs in their network.
The Capitol Casino, which occupies a pair of small rooms a few blocks from the legislative chambers in Sacramento, appears on the social services website showing where clients can get money. Each room has an ATM: one is so close to a poker table that a player with long arms could lean back and withdraw cash without leaving his chair; the other is a few steps from the blackjack table.
At the Casino Royale on the outskirts of Sacramento, the first thing patrons pass as they walk to the gaming floor is the ATM with a sign next to it saying, “Exceed your ATM daily limit here!!”
The system of paying out welfare benefits via bank cards was created under Democrat Gray Davis. The Democrats in the legislature have also been trying to discontinue fingerprinting of food stamp recipients, a system designed to prevent double-dipping and other abuses.
Schwarzenegger threatened to eliminate the state welfare program in his May budget proposal, and that was before he knew that the cash could be accessed by people strolling from poker games to blackjack tables.
“In a time when we have a $19-billion deficit, and we’re taking a serious look at the future of many safety-net programs, it’s appalling to think that welfare beneficiaries can use their cards in a casino,” said Seth Unger, spokesman for the Assembly Republican Caucus.