The District of Columbia Tuesday became the first legal U.S. sports betting jurisdiction to eliminate existing problem gambling funding when the DC Council’s Committee of the Whole unanimously voted to approve the FY 2024 budget, which removes the $200,000 annual allocation to the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) for preventing, treating, and researching gambling addiction.
Despite the funding being included in the District’s sports betting law, which passed in 2019, the Department of Behavioral Health told the DC Council earlier this year that it had not spent previous funds and did not need them going forward.
Responsible and problem gambling advocates fear that the elimination of the funding, which they have fought for in virtually every legal U.S. jurisdiction, could have a domino effect. The timing of the DC Council’s decision comes as states have been pumping up their commitment to responsible gambling through additional funding, stricter advertising guidelines, and fines to operators for marketing to those at risk or under the legal wagering age.
“What an incredibly disheartening and maddening day for the people of D.C.,” problem and responsible gambling advocate Brianne Doura-Schawohl told Sports Handle. “Problem gambling does not discriminate, and individuals who are currently struggling or will struggle in the future deserve support from a trained professional. In their decision to repeal funding for vital health services, D.C. leaves thousands of people without help or hope.”
‘The mayor and council have failed’
The National Council on Problem Gambling received 4,892 calls from the 202 area code to its helpline in 2022, a 35% increase from 2021. A report from the Health Committee suggests that the DBH create a clearer pathway for problem gamblers in D.C. and work with organizations “with a strong track record of supporting individuals with gambling disorders.”
thanks much Martin for great coverage of this broken promise. Eliminating dedicated PG funding during #pgam2023 hurts the city & places DC gambling operators in a terrible position; their responsible gambling programs depend on govt funded PG services, which aren't there. Shame. https://t.co/KNuUPdfc8P
— TheKeithWhyte (@TheKeithWhyte1) March 30, 2023
The budget, which is bigger than what Bowser initially sent to the council, now goes to the mayor for her signature. The council added back funding for schools, housing, and other social programs, but not problem gambling treatment.
“As a result of today’s decision, the mayor and council have failed to adequately provide for, protect, and serve the people of Washington, D.C.,” Doura-Schawohl said. “As long as the district continues to operate and profit from legalized gambling, the jurisdiction and its operators bear the responsibility to pay for the harms that can result from it.
For comparison’s sake, neighboring Virginia sets aside 2.5% of state wagering revenue for problem gambling treatment, while the North Carolina legislature, which appears headed toward legalizing wagering, has earmarked $1 million for responsible gambling programs.