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The Assembly today took a step to block welfare recipients from spending taxpayer funds at casinos and adult entertainment venues.

Assembly Bill 493, advanced to the Senate by a 50-8 vote, would stop people holding CalWORKS debit cards from withdrawing funds through ATMs located at gaming venues and strip clubs.

News reports last year revealed that nearly 1 percent of the $10.8 billion spent through CalWORKS cards during a three-year period were spent at places like Las Vegas casinos. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order shortly after that has prevented similar transactions ever since. AB 493 turns the order into law.

Opponents criticized the measure for making an unreasonable conclusion that people using ATMs at those venues are then actually spending the money at those same places.

Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, said there is small amount of "waste, fraud and abuse" but that lawmakers can't universally "connect the dots." Many of the people using the casino ATMs might be workers at the casinos or in an area where a strip club has the closest ATM, she said.

Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, said his bill "takes a modest step to protect the integrity of the system."

Mitchell said the issue the lawmakers should be debating is how people use the money "we give them" not where they use it.

Senate Bill 417
, which would have stopped CalWORKS recipients from spending their welfare money on alcohol and tobacco products, was killed by a Democratic majority in committee earlier this year.


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