The phrase “use it or lose it” seems to ring true for DC Mayor Muriel Bowser when it comes to money from sports betting to fund problem gambling programs.
The law that legalized sports betting in DC set aside the first $200,000 in sports betting taxes each fiscal year for problem gambling purposes. But so far, with $600,000 collected through the end of fiscal 2022 on Sept. 30, not a dollar of that has been utilized.
Perhaps that is why Mayor Bowser sees fit to cut that contribution entirely, according to her fiscal 2024 budget proposal.
No one from the Bowser’s office or anyone involved in the budget process returned LSR requests for comment on the issue.
Why were sports betting taxes not used?
There is no information on the DC Department of Behavioral Health‘s website about problem gambling assistance. Even searching for the term ‘problem gambling’ along with the department’s full name only brings up documents that mention the $200,000 annual funding.
That is a big problem, said Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.
“No one is going to seek help from your secret problem gambling program,” Whyte said.
Without a real problem gambling program, there is no one certified to treat gambling addiction, he added.
Whyte: DC sports betting funds could have done a lot
That $600,000 could have made a significant difference, Whyte said. There are seven basic elements to problem gambling therapy, Whyte explained, and those funds could have went to any or all of those:
- Responsible gambling
Still, there would have been work left to do, with additional funding needed.
“I’m not sure that that $600,000 would have ever been enough to stand up a program, but it would have been a good start,” Whyte said.
Whyte: This is on politicians, not industry
NCPG has reached out to BetMGM, Caesars and FanDuel to let them know they are operating in a jurisdiction without sufficient problem gambling protections. At the end of the day, though, it is not the industry’s job to handle that, Whyte said.
“There’s always a cost and politicians are sometimes the worst, even worse than the industry, at acknowledging the downside. They only want to hear and see the rosy story.
“Even if the industry ignores problem gambling as they often do, they don’t have the power to make it go away. In some sense, a very indifferent or very ignorant legislator, or mayor in this case, can make it go away.”
White said he heard problem gambling funding would be different as sports betting spread throughout the US, though that clearly has not been the case.
“Everyone in 2018 said, ‘Oh Keith, this is the modern era. If we legalize sports betting we’ll definitely put money aside. … And that didn’t happen in most states,” Whyte said.