As Gambling Grows, Washington State Tackles Issues Of Addiction

July 25, 2022
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Washington gaming regulators and researchers have been studying whether there are enough resources to address gambling addiction and determine if those services need to be increased due to the prevalence of tribal casinos, cardrooms and other forms of gambling in the state, including sports betting.

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Washington gaming regulators and researchers have been studying whether there are enough resources to address gambling addiction and determine if those services need to be increased due to the prevalence of tribal casinos, cardrooms and other forms of gambling in the state, including sports betting.

In May 2019, Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, signed a bill that included $100,000 for a Problem Gambling Task Force (PGTF) led by the state's Health Care Authority (HCA) to study the need for gambling addiction services, how well that need is being met, and what more the state could do to address the issue.

Since its creation, the PGTF filed an interim report with the state legislature in November 2020 and has continued to collect data as it prepares to file its final report this November.

As part of its agenda for its July 14 meeting, the Washington State Gambling Commission (WSGC) released 16 pages of data compiled by Roxane Waldron, manager of the state's Problem Gambling Program, and being used for the PGTF’s survey.

Waldron, who was unavailable for this month's meeting, is expected to update the WSGC on the survey’s results in August or September.

Kevin McCarty, a WSGC spokesman, said the commission is a member of the PGTF, but although the regulator assists with the report, the WSGC does not have final approval of the report to be sent to the legislature later this year.

The adult problem gambling prevalence survey is focused on beliefs and attitudes towards gambling, gambling behavior and preferences, awareness of problem gambling treatment services, level of risk for problem gambling for state residents, and how it overlaps with mental health and substance use issues.

The task force is also studying the prevalence, methods and modes of online gambling. Online gambling, except for on-reservation mobile sports betting conducted by tribal casinos, is illegal in Washington state.

As such, the illegal online market is not regulated or taxed, and there are no required consumer protections.

The most recent results found 1.4 percent of all the gamblers in Washington state are at moderate to severe risk for developing a gambling disorder, while 43.6 percent of gamblers are at no or minimal risk of problem gambling.

Researchers also found that 73 percent of gamblers play only at brick-and-mortar locations, with gambling legal at tribal casinos, cardrooms, racetracks and through the state lottery. But 27 percent of those surveyed also, or only, gambled online.

For those who gambling illegally online, 92.2 percent of those surveyed had no or a minimal risk of developing a gambling habit, while the risk for moderate or severe problem gambling was 7.8 percent.

Among those who gambling exclusively in brick-and-mortar casinos, 1.7 percent are at risk for moderate to severe problem gambling, and 98.3 percent had no or minimal risk of problem gambling.

As for demographics, the survey found men aged 35 to 64 with a high school or some college education were most likely to be gamblers. Military personnel, whether active, retired or in transition, were also “more likely” to gamble.

When broken down between brick-and-mortar venues and online, the study found women, those with advanced degrees, military personnel and retired people were more likely to spend time at a casino.

The results found “no significant differences” in race, ethnicity, marital status or physical disability among those who preferred casinos to playing slots or table games online.

Researchers found that men aged 18 to 34, followed by those aged 35 to 64, preferred to gamble online. They tended to never be married, have a high school degree, no military service and be employed.

As for those populations with a more significant risk to develop a moderate or severe gambling problem, the survey found that black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) at about twice the risk than white people, at 6 percent versus 2.8 percent.

People having some college education but not having graduated were also at high risk of developing a problem.

Waldron’s report urges the state legislature and relevant state agencies to study the impacts from illegal online gambling on state residents, including any policy recommendations relating to future legislation and related consumer protections and regulation.

She is also proposing that lawmakers create a working group to develop a “Sports Bettors’ Bill of Rights” strategy, similar to one recently enacted in Virginia.

In 2020, the Virginia Lottery was mandated to implement a Sports Bettors’ Bill of Rights to give consumers the ability to access certain information for wagering, as well as information that ensures the licensees’ offerings are “administered legally and fairly in all respects.”

Among the rights granted to Virginia bettors is a right to privacy and protection of their personally identifiable information and to the security of their funds, as well as the right to self-exclude, with operators required to employ industry best practices to verify the age of the account holder.

Waldron also recommends other consumer protections be included in Washington state, such as time limits, deposit limits (daily, weekly, or monthly), win and loss limits and real-time updates on how time or money is being spent or lost, as well as “cool off” options.

She also supports giving gamblers the ability to unsubscribe from marketing while still holding a wagering account, and operators should not be allowed to offer lines of credit.

The final survey to be released in November is also expected to include advertising guidelines, propose banning the use of the term “risk-free” in sports-betting advertising, and require the national problem gambling helpline number be included in all advertisements.

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