When the NFL season begins this week, Kentucky residents and visitors for the first time will be able to legally place sports bets on something other than horse racing. When that happens, some of that money will also fund the state’s first program for people with gambling problems.
Since the US Supreme Court cleared the way for the legalization of sports betting five years ago, nearly three-quarters of states have moved quickly to allow it. State funding for problem gambling services has not kept pace, although more states like Kentucky are requiring that at least a portion of sports betting revenues go towards helping addicted gamblers.
Funding is starting to flow, but the amount is still clearly inadequate in most states, said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. He added: Most of these values are symbolic.
Legal sports betting operators have raked in $220 billion over the last five years, generating $3 billion in state and local taxes.
By contrast, states spent an average of 38 cents per capita on problem gambling services in the 2022 fiscal year, ranging from nothing in nine states to $10.6 million in Massachusetts, according to consulting firm Problem Gambling Solutions Inc., headquartered in Portland, Oregon. , which came from all forms of gambling, was directed towards services such as helplines, advice and public awareness campaigns.
The federal government, which spends billions of dollars on substance abuse prevention and treatment, provides nothing for gambling problems.
Supporters in Kentucky, which has a rich horse racing history, have tried for decades to persuade lawmakers to fund services for people with gambling problems. There was no guarantee that they would finally succeed when sports betting was proposed.
In fact, Republican State Representative Michael Meredith did not originally include any funding for problem gambling in his legislation that legalized sports betting. Meredith told the Associated Press that he would have preferred to launch sports betting first and then come back in later years with legislation targeting problem gambling funding to all types of betting, including horse racing.
But Meredith couldn’t muster enough support to pass the bill this year until a provision was added devoting 2.5% of sports betting taxes and licensing fees to a problematic new gambling account, which can also be used for addiction. of alcohol and drugs.
We had people who wanted to vote on sports betting, Meredith said. But they were really reluctant to throw money without some kind of problem.
Kentucky’s new fund is expected to receive about $575,000 in its first year.
It’s a decent start, but we only have five board-certified gambling counselors in the state right now, and we would probably need five times more to provide adequate geographic and demographic coverage, said Michael R. Stone, executive director of the nonprofit Kentucky Council. about problematic gambling.
A year ago, 15 states and the District of Columbia had laws earmarking a portion of their sports betting revenues for troublesome gambling services, but another 15 states did not. Since then, seven additional states have launched sports betting or passed laws to do so, and all of them have required that part of their sports betting revenues go to problem gambling services, said Rachel Volberg, research professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts-Amhurst.
Ohio, which launched sports betting on Jan. 1, requires that 2% of tax revenues go into a troubled sports gaming fund. State law also requires that all sports betting advertisements include a telephone number for a gambling helpline. During the first seven months, calls to the Ohio helpline increased by about 150% compared to the same period a year ago.
The increase appears to be driven by an increase in sports betting marketing, although some people had problems with other types of gambling or weren’t really looking for help, said Derek Longmeier, executive director of Ohio’s Problem Gambling Network.
Research indicates that younger, more educated men are among the most likely to bet on sports. Technology has increased the risks for those with compulsive habits. In many states, people can now bet anywhere at the touch of a smartphone app, 24 hours a day, betting not just on game winners, but on a seemingly limitless array of events that occur during games.
From a problem gambling standpoint, I think it’s more dangerous because it’s easier to access, said Linda Graves, recently retired executive director of the National Association of Administrators of Disordered Gambling Services.
Last month, attorneys general from several states gathered at a Connecticut casino for seminars centered on sports betting and online gaming. The widespread legalization of sports betting has added fuel to a public health problem that was already seeping under the surface, gambling consultant Brianne Doura-Schawohl told the group.
However, some governments have reduced funding for problem gambling services in recent years.
In May, the District of Columbia Board eliminated what had been a $200,000 annual allocation to the Department of Behavioral Health to prevent, treat and research gambling addictions. While the funding is required by a 2019 law that authorized sports betting, the department has apparently not used the money. The department said support services for problem gamblers are available through other means.
In Mississippi, a long-standing $100,000 annual grant for a compulsive gambling organization was eliminated in 2017 amid other state budget cuts. The following year, Mississippi introduced sports betting in casinos and authorized a statewide lottery. However, lawmakers continued not to appropriate anything for the troubled game until they restored $75,000 in the 2024 budget, which began in July.
To stay afloat without state aid, the Mississippi Board on Compulsive and Problem Gambling, a nonprofit organization, relied largely on casino donations. It has plunged into bookings, halved the salaries of its two employees, moved to a smaller office, eliminated travel to conferences and suspended a program that provided several weeks of free counseling for people looking to overcome gambling problems, said the Executive Director Betty Greer. .
Kansas also has a history of low funding for problem games. While 2% of state casino revenues go into an addiction services fund, only a fraction of that amount has actually been channeled into problem gambling. Last year, problem gambling services received less than $60,000, while more than $7 million went to Medicaid mental health expenses, substance abuse grants and other programs.
But that is changing. Kansas’ current budget allocates more than $1 million to problem gambling efforts in response to sports betting. The state plans to study the prevalence of sports betting addiction and then use the results to shape a statewide public awareness campaign.
Lieb reported from Jefferson City, Missouri. Associated Press reporter Susan Haigh contributed from Mashantucket, Connecticut.
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