Washington, D.C., is apparently celebrating National Problem Gambling Awareness Month by eliminating funding for problem gambling services.
On Thursday, the NPR affiliate WAMU reported that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was seeking to repeal a provision in the District’s sports betting code that allocates $200,000 in annual funding to problem gambling treatment and prevention.
Small D.C. budget find: @MayorBowser wants to repeal the provisions of law (below) that require revenues from sports betting to be evenly divided between early education programs and violence interruption efforts, and also sets aside $200k a year to deal with problem gambling. pic.twitter.com/DTydAUovkI
— Martin Austermuhle (@maustermuhle) March 23, 2023
While the mayor’s office did not return calls and emails seeking comment on the motive for this reported cut, the D.C.-based National Council on Problem Gambling’s main lobbyist, Brianne Doura-Schawohl, speculated that the mayor’s maneuver was “probably an attempt to balance the budget.”
“We’ve never talked more about [problem gambling] as a nation than right now, and now we’re going to take a step backwards in the nation’s capital?” said Doura-Schawohl. “There’s money coming into D.C. and they’re profiting off of this. D.C. and the mayor, by saying this is going to go away in perpetuity. It’s a failure of their responsibility.”
Doura-Schawohl went on to say that while $200,000 is less than the $1 million she would consider an acceptable amount of annual funding for problem gambling in the District, “something is better than nothing.” But since sports betting was legalized in D.C. in late 2019, something actually has been nothing, as the city has yet to allocate a single penny of what should have been at least $600,000 in PG funding by now.
Testifying on behalf of the NCPG in February before the D.C. Council Health Committee, Doura-Schawohl said, “After more than two-and-a-half years of legalized sports betting in the District, DBH (Department of Behavioral Health) has not spent the $200,000 devoted to problem gambling. DBH has confirmed that it has the money, but for some reason still has not spent it. … Last fall, DBH finally issued an RFQ that remained open for less than two weeks before it was closed and DBH reported that there were no satisfactory quotes. This is not surprising given how short of a time the RFQ was open and how poorly it was advertised.
“The legislation is clear that DBH should be funding addiction prevention, treatment, and research to ensure that there are safety nets in place for those who are sure to develop gambling problems as legalized gambling expands. … We know from operating our National Problem Gambling Helpline that 3,623 calls to the helpline were made from the District in 2021, a 109% increase from 2020.”
She added that there were 4,892 calls, texts, and chats to that helpline initiated by D.C. residents in 2022.
Treatment, prevention funds gutted before
Further decrying the mayor’s “absolute abomination of a move,” Doura-Schawohl added, “Now I don’t even have funds to go fight for.”
Violence prevention and early childhood advocates can relate. Mere months after D.C. legalized sports betting with the promise that $7 million would be earmarked for those two areas, Bowser succeeded in moving that money to the general fund.
“We have looked at the dedication of resources for specific purposes and we think the better way to approach this from a policy perspective is to allow those resources to flow to the general fund, determine what our policy priorities are, and make those funding decisions accordingly,” City Administrator Rashad Young explained at the time.
But D.C. Council Member Robert White didn’t see it that way, telling the Washington Informer, “Selling sports betting as a funding mechanism for these desperately needed programs, yet during the budget process, redirecting these same funds to be used for general purposes is a classic bait-and-switch.”