In 2023, lawmakers in several states will consider proposals to increase funding for problem gambling or prioritize treatment services as they deal with the impact of new forms of legalized gambling on their communities, including sports betting and casino gaming.
In Washington state, lawmakers will find a 219-page report waiting for them when they return to work in Olympia on Monday (January 9) recommending how the state can improve on prevention and treatment of problem gambling.
The report was submitted to the legislature on behalf of the Problem Gambling Task Force (PGTF) by the Washington State Gambling Commission.
The task force, led by the state’s Health Care Authority (HCA), was created in May 2019 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.
The task force filed an interim report with the state legislature in November 2020 but continued to collect data as it prepared to submit its final report to the state legislature last month.
“Our gap analysis and review of other state problem gambling programs reveals that our current state program lacks the requisite resources to provide comprehensive problem gambling services state-wide,” according to the PGTF report.
“Problem gambling is a behavioral issue that currently stands outside mainstream behavioral health services and funding.”
Among the issues highlighted in the report were Washington state’s program being clearly underfunded, problem gambling treatment coverage being spotty state-wide, and residential treatment being unavailable through the state program, with the nearest residential treatment problem gambling program in Salem, Oregon.
Researchers discovered there were few problem gambling-trained peer and recovery support specialists, while acknowledging there were multiple problem gambling efforts across public, private and tribal entities but they were not integrated with other prevention services offered by the state.
The report laid out several recommendations to close those gaps from increasing funding for the state’s problem gambling program to creating partnerships and better collaboration between regulators, heath care agencies, tribal governments and the state legislature.
The report also recommends an assessment of a potential gambling treatment diversion program within existing state courts, creating a policy to implement a state-wide self-exclusion list, and proper employee training to help identify customers who show signs of gambling addiction and provide resources to them.
To respond to the gaps found in the study, the Washington State Problem Gambling Program and Health Care Authority Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery has put forth a proposed budget that would increase services and research.
The proposal would increase funding for the Washington State Problem Gambling Program from $1.46m to $2.8m in the 2023-2025 biennium budget. It is unclear whether the state’s 2023-2025 biennium budget will include the requested funding increase.
Under the current budget, the state program spends about 72 percent of its funding on treatment services, with the remaining 28 percent split between clinical training, prevention programs and administrative costs.
If the state’s program budget is doubled, it would allow for a year-round prevention initiative, increase services to serve up to 700 clients annually, and increase the current number of certified gambling counselors by a minimum 25 percent.
Virginia Tackles Problem Gambling
Some 2,900 miles to the east in Richmond, a bipartisan pair of Virginia lawmakers have introduced a bill to create a new committee on problem gambling.
“As Virginia moves forward with the expansion of gaming, it is important that we understand the ills that come with it,” Republican Senator Bryce Reeves said in a joint statement announcing House Bill 1465 co-filed with Delegate Paul Krizek, a Democrat.
Reeves said the legislation was about focusing “our attention on Virginians who struggle with gambling addiction.”
The new bill would establish the Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Advisory Committee within the state’s Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services (DBHDS), which oversees addiction and mental health issues in Virginia.
The committee’s mission would be to “enable collaboration” between prevention and treatment providers and the gaming industry “on efforts to reduce the negative effects of problem gambling.”
If approved, the committee would be chaired by the state’s problem gambling prevention coordinator, a position created within the DBHDS, and would also feature one representative from each of the state’s agencies primarily responsible for regulating gaming.
“In just the last few years, we have considerably expanded gaming in the Commonwealth with the recent opening of temporary casinos, sports betting, historical horseracing machines, online lottery, and much more,” Krizek said.
In their joint statement announcing HB 1465, Reeves and Krizek highlighted a 2021 Virginia Youth Survey that found more than 21 percent of high-school students said that they had gambled or placed a bet in the past year and 64 percent of young adults aged 18-25 have gambled in the past 30 days.
“We know from prevention research that people who begin gambling in their teens are at a higher risk of developing a problem with gambling and that one of the fastest growing groups to have gambling problems are young adults,” Krizek said.
The early activity in 2023 comes after lawmakers in Colorado, Michigan and Illinois were among those to approve new or expanded programs last year to address concerns of problem gambling.
At the national level, the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) is expected to approve a resolution authored by its Committee on Responsible Gambling when it meets this summer in Denver. The resolution was discussed at last month’s NCLGS meeting in Las Vegas and will be updated after input from multiple state lawmakers.
Currently, the three-page draft resolution emphasizes the need for adequate funding to ensure access, availability and affordability of treatment services, and endorses the establishment and funding to integrate problem gambling into other diversion courts to offer court-supervised recovery programs.
In total, the current draft resolution offers 16 suggestions to strengthen problem gambling funding, treatment and prevention programs, as well as an accredited national problem gambling helpline, employee assistance programs and insurance coverage for gaming operator employees.