On Dec 27, 2022, Delegate Paul Krizek (D) and Senator Bryce Reeves (R) of Virginia pre-filed bills to create a Problem Gambling Advisory Committee (PGAC). The committee members would include gambling regulators, industry representatives, and community service members.
The PGAC’s goal would be to seek alignment between experts on problem gambling and the Virginia gaming industry.
Krizek issued a press release about the effort, stating:
In just the last few years, we have considerably expanded gaming in the Commonwealth, with the recent opening of temporary casinos, sports betting, historical horse racing machines, online Lottery, and much more. As more gaming opportunities are legalized and expanded in Virginia, we must prioritize protecting Virginians from gambling addiction, especially young people.
Virginia has only recently begun investing in its responsible gambling infrastructure. The 2020 Virginia sports betting bill created the Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Fund. Shortly before the beginning of the 2022 fiscal year, the state hired a problem gambling coordinator. It has also given $2.6 million in problem gambling funding to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS).
Virginia Playing Catchup on Responsible Gambling
Nationwide, the wave of sports betting legalization has brought new attention to responsible gambling issues. Discussion around online sports betting, in particular, has often highlighted how little investment there has been in such programs.
In 2019, a Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report found 40 other states that were spending at a higher rate than Virginia on problem gambling services. Virginia’s sports betting bill also presented the state with an opportunity to address the problem.
Keith Whyte, Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said:
Virginia historically ignored problem gambling and is now playing catch up. When the state expanded gambling, they finally funded problem gambling programs, thanks to advocacy by NCPG’s Legislative Director at the time, Brianne Doura-Schawohl, alongside the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling.
Even so, a 2021 survey by the National Association of Administrators for Disordered Gambling Services (NAADGS) still ranked Virginia as 41st in public spending per capita on problem gambling.
That said, the same survey points out that FY 2021 was a transition year. May, when the new funding was allocated to DBHDS, was one of the last months of the fiscal year. Therefore, Virginia had only had the opportunity to spend a small fraction of that $2.6 million and would have ranked better had the funding come in earlier.
The DBHDS has just over $2 million budgeted for problem gambling services in FY 2023 and FY 2024.
While Virginia has begun to address its problems, its per capita spending is still well behind the best-funded states. Moreover, funding is only the first piece of the state’s responsible gambling safety net.
Coordinating Problem Gambling Treatment and Prevention
Putting that funding to good use will require regulators, counselors, and industry experts to coordinate their efforts. Identifying problem gamblers and directing them to the necessary services can be a complex process. A state-mandated commission can help with that.
Getting all stakeholders across Virginia’s publicly and privately funded healthcare systems to incorporate problem gambling into their programs is an enormous challenge. Recent legislation reflects these growing pains, and further efforts will likely be necessary to make sure that Virginians finally have access to comprehensive problem gambling prevention, education, treatment, research, and recovery programs.
Effective responsible gambling efforts require more than just helplines and billboards. Those suffering from addiction need help to identify that they have a problem, then finding treatment and using responsible gambling controls or self-excluding as necessary.
The DBHDS also needs to fund research into how to nip problem gambling in the bud before it escalates into a crisis. That could mean better spending controls, a statewide self-exclusion registry, or other tactics yet to be discovered. Finding new ways for gambling companies to direct at-risk customers to treatment will be critical for those who need it.
Virginia’s investment in responsible gambling programs comes later than many other states. However, these early steps will build the foundation of responsible gambling initiatives for years to come.