$200,000 in sports betting tax revenue earmarked for treating gambling addiction each year has been removed from Washington, D.C.’s 2024 budget. [Image: Shutterstock.com]
The government got what it wanted
When sports betting was legalized in Washington, D.C., a portion of the law required that $200,000 in revenue the district received from the pastime go to the “prevention, treatment, and research of gambling addiction.” The law hasn’t changed, but those backing dollars don’t anymore.
Last week, the Committee of the Whole of the DC Council unanimously approved the budget for fiscal year 2024, which strips the annual appropriation of the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH).
DC gets what it wants from sports betting – that sweet tax revenue
In what seems like an “I have my own, f**k you” situation, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s budget was actually larger than her office originally gave the board, but even so, finding $200,000 out of billions wasn’t feasible. Well, I sure do, but DC gets what it wants with sports betting — that sweet, sweet tax revenue — and now doesn’t feel the need to be socially responsible.
Bowser’s budget even removed other allotments from sports betting proceeds, such as schools and affordable housing, but those allotments were returned. As Councilor Brian Nadeau tweeted in March: “I voted against sports betting for this reason only. Politicians are seduced by their ability to devote revenue to specific projects. This does not address the negative impact of legal gambling. Now with this proposal we also lose any benefits from Oriented Revenue.
The funds were not used, however
Removing problem gambling funding is at least somewhat understandable because of the craziest part of this whole mess: DBH has never used a dime of it for its intended purpose. As such, management told the DC that it did not need the money.
DBH Chief of Staff Phyllis Jones Tell DCist that her agency does indeed have the ability to help problem gamblers through its existing programmes, even though these programs are not specifically designed for gambling addiction.
“DBH has accredited about 50 community service providers located throughout the capital to provide mental health services,” Jones endorsed. “Several types of therapy used to treat gambling disorders, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), group therapy, and family therapy, are available through our network of providers.”
It’s all nonsense, says Keith White, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG).
Therefore, the city cannot offer an ethical or effective remedy for problem gambling.”
“We strongly believe that treatment for gambling addiction requires special training and certification. We are not aware of any employees within DBH or their suppliers who have any such training or certification.” Thus the City cannot offer ethical or effective treatment for problem gambling.
Meanwhile, as DBH made $200,000 a year and let it sit there, problem gambling rates in D.C. appear to have increased. The NCPG told the D.C. Council that its helpline received 4,892 calls from local residents in 2022, up 35% from 2021. The 2021 number was 109% higher than the 2020 number.
The government is not doing its job
What is infuriating about the removal of DBH funding and DBH’s refusal to use it to help problem gamblers (which, of course, contributed to said funding being revoked), is that it is an example of the government’s refusal to do so. Absolute minimum to protect people. The government shirks its responsibilities and pennies.
“We believe that anytime a government legalizes gambling, it has a moral and economic obligation to give back some of its winnings to mitigate the harm caused by legal gambling,” White said.
The capital leaves thousands of people without help or hope.”
Problem and responsible gambling advocate Brian Dora Saul Tell Sports handle described the situation as “disheartening and frenzied,” adding: “…individuals who are currently suffering or will struggle in the future deserve support from a trained professional. In their decision to defund vital health services, DC is leaving thousands of people without help or hope.”
At least there’s the self-exclusion list, which launched in May 2020. But even that flopped horribly. For the first two years, DC Lottery’s Advanced Thinkers asked people to go to the DC Lottery office to get the list. You know, let’s make it easy to gamble from home, but it’s not easy to stop yourself from gambling. A total of two people placed themselves on the exclusion list at that time. An online option was finally offered in January 2022, but in about a year, only 14 people had used it.