If Maryland is to legalize real-money online casino play anytime in the near future, some new research suggests that it should do so in tandem with taking steps to increase the resources for people with compulsive gambling issues in the state. The study’s findings suggest that the existing resources could be already struggling to meet the need.
The data suggest that there could be a low level of awareness among Marylanders as to what resources exist and how to access them. While it might be impossible to ever overfund these resources, simply throwing more money at the issue alone won’t address the problem of people living with gaming-related behavioral pathologies.
Legislative study points to strengths of Maryland’s resources
Earlier this month, the Maryland General Assembly’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability composed an Evaluation of the Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling. The analysis concerns state resources to treat people’s issues with problem gambling.
There are some positive statements in the study. For example, the research determined that “awareness of opportunities to get help” has increased over time. Additionally, the study says that “Maryland spends more on problem gambling than most states” in the US.
Furthermore, study authors add that Maryland “has not come close to expending the” Problem Gambling Fund’s “budget for no-cost treatment” services. However, there are caveats to even those positive statements.
Research shows where Maryland has work to do
While it’s true that Maryland has not exhausted its budget for providing treatment to such individuals, that also suggests that many people with compulsive gambling issues may not be getting the assistance they need. It’s possible that such people might seek treatment through channels that don’t involve the state to some degree.
It’s difficult to account for that in this study, however. What the data shows is a rise in people in Maryland at least seeking information about treatment. According to the study, there was a 51% increase in use of Maryland’s problem gambling helpline from 2020 to 2022.
Over the same time period, the instances of Marylanders accessing no-cost treatment services actually declined by 11%. Perhaps the strongest messages in the data were for the state’s future, though. Maryland could expand its current regulated gambling landscape soon.
Online casino legalization on the horizon?
In June, the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Commission announced that it would conduct a study to determine the potential impact on the state if it were to legalize online casino play. That followed the introduction of a bill to do exactly that earlier in the year.
At the same time, this study suggests that Maryland might need to deploy additional interventions along with that expansion. One potential barrier to access for treatment for some Marylanders might be geography and travel costs.
As the study authors point out, treatment “providers are concentrated in the most popular regions.” While that seems ideal, the authors go on to share that “four counties in the Eastern Shore region have no providers” whatsoever.
Additionally, even in the regions of the state with the most providers of treatment, the ratio of such to the general population is stark. At its worst, Southern Maryland has one provider for every 72,944 citizens. At best, the Eastern Shore has one provider for every 35,309 people.
Naturally, most of those people will not need problem gambling treatment. However, if nearly 9% of the adult population in the state could benefit from such services as the study suggests, then that means each provider potentially has a caseload of hundreds if not thousands of people.
The research does not simply identify an issue. It presents suggestions for addressing the perceived shortfall as well.
Study authors suggest action to improve resources
Providers who participate in Maryland’s No-Cost Network for problem gambling treatment services are reimbursed for their work by the state. The authors of this study suggest that might be part of the issue in increasing the number of such providers.
Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling “staff say the main hurdle to adding more providers is that many say they (1) do not want to accept Maryland Medicaid reimbursement rates for treatment services and/or (2) do not want to go through the state’s ASO (Administrative Services Organization) to process treatment reimbursement claims.”
To address those concerns, the authors suggest that the Behavioral Health Administration “should consider providing the Center with a regularly updated list of the behavioral health providers who accept Medicaid” in Maryland.
The study makes other recommendations like “diversifying the revenue sources into the Problem Gambling Fund.” If that could be used to attract more treatment providers into the system and raise awareness of the resources among those who need them most, the next of these studies may reveal improvements in the state for people who struggle with compulsive gambling issues.