Problem Gambling Funding Bills Face Difficult Legislative Process

March 7, 2023
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Following the rapid expansion of sports betting and online gaming in the U.S. over the last five years, lawmakers in several states have introduced bills during the 2023 legislative sessions that are designed to increase awareness as well as funding for problem gambling prevention and treatment services.

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Editor's Note: This story was updated March 10 to reflect that Senate Bill 1508 was passed in committee, and is waiting for a Senate vote.

Following the rapid expansion of sports betting and online gaming in the U.S. over the last five years, lawmakers in several states have introduced bills during the 2023 legislative sessions that are designed to increase awareness as well as funding for problem gambling prevention and treatment services.

In Illinois, Senate Bill 1508, sponsored by Democratic state senator Bill Cunningham, would require online sports-betting sites in the state to display pop-up messages about websites that offer problem gambling services after every ten wagers made.

The Illinois Gaming Board (IGB) would be responsible for overseeing the program.

Cunningham’s bill has added two Democratic co-sponsors in Senators Mary Edly-Allen and Paul Faraci, since its introduction on February 7.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee passed SB 1508 on Tuesday (March 7). The bill is now on the calendar for a full vote in the Senate.

Whether the pop-up ad bill will be approved or not by the Illinois legislature is still unknown, it is just one of several responsible gaming-related bills currently being considered in state legislatures nationwide.

A proposal by Democratic Representative Chris Stearns to double the funds available to assist Washington state residents suffering from problem gaming overwhelmingly passed the state's House of Representatives 80-16 on March 1.

The bill has now been referred to the Senate Business, Financial Services, Gaming & Trade Committee.

“Gambling disorder is a medically diagnosable disease, yet it is still poorly understood in this country,” said Stearns, a former chairman of the Washington State Gambling Commission (WSGC) who was elected to the state legislature last year.

In Washington, Stearns said, there are few treatment options available for those suffering from problem gambling.

House Bill 1681 would clarify the responsibilities of the Washington Health Care Authority and the Department of Health for the State Problem Gambling Program and establish an advisory committee for the program.

The advisory committee would hold quarterly meetings to track the progress from a 2022 legislative problem gambling task force, along with providing advice on the state’s problem gambling program and discussing emerging issues and strategies to deal with them.

The task force’s final report determined there were critical gaps in providing comprehensive problem gambling services to Washington residents, including prevention efforts that are not coordinated with other initiatives.

The report also found that treatment coverage was not available across the state, and there was no state-supported residential treatment services available.

According to Stearns' proposal, in fiscal year 2024, 0.20 percent instead of 0.10 percent of revenue received from the sale of lottery tickets would be transferred to the problem gambling fund. That figure would be increased to 0.26 percent in 2025 and subsequent fiscal years.

“We need to find ways to increase services,” Stearns said in a statement. “House Bill 1681 will do just that, doubling the funding for treating problem gambling here in our state.”

Despite a $2bn gaming industry driven by horseracing, a state lottery and historical horseracing machines, Kentucky remains one of nine states that does not currently provide any funding for problem gambling services.

The others are Alaska, Alabama, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Texas, and Utah.

House Bill 486 would change that by taking 0.1 percent of all money wagered on live races and historical horse races to be distributed to the Kentucky Problem Gambling Assistance Fund. The bill would cap the total contributions at $500,000 annually.

The proposal, authored by Democratic Representative Al Gentry, would also require tracks licensed by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to implement programs that promote responsible gambling.

Gentry’s bill was referred to the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee on February 28, but a hearing or vote on the measure has not yet been scheduled.

Last year, a similar measure would have set aside $225,000 for a problem gambling fund, only to be reduced through a House floor amendment to $50,000. House Bill 609 passed the House by an 81-14 vote only to stall in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In other legislative activity related to responsible gaming, a bill establishing the Hawaii Gambling Addiction Special Fund within the Department of Human Services for the treatment of residents with gambling addictions remains in the Senate Judiciary Committee without a hearing scheduled.

Senate Bill 935, authored by Democratic state Senator Staley Chang, originally proposed a ban on Nevada casino companies advertising in the state, but a revised version removed the prohibition.

Chang’s measure still would impose a general excise tax on businesses that arrange or sale within the state vacation packages or other retail services that promote gambling that is not prohibited by state law. The amount of tax would depends on the type of business.

Elsewhere, Senate Bill 54, introduced by Republican Senator Joseph Bellino, would require the Michigan Department of Education to develop a grade- and age-appropriate model program of instruction on gambling addiction state-wide for students by July 1, 2024.

Bellino said his bipartisan bill was designed to “head off this growing problem by acting to raise awareness among our students about the real risks of gambling.” The proposal has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.

In New York, Assembly Bill A1118 would require all advertisements for gambling and sports betting to include warnings about potential harmful and addictive effects of gambling. The bill was passed by the Assembly on February 27 and has been referred to the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee.

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