In a twist of events, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser apparently aims to eliminate funding for problem gambling services.
According to NPR affiliate WAMU, Bowser seeks to repeal a DC sports betting law provision that allocates $200,000 annually to problem gambling treatment and prevention.
Stripping away treatment funds from DC sports betting statutes
Despite Bowser’s intentions, Brianne Doura-Schawohl, the main lobbyist for the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), speculates the move might be budget related.
“We’ve never talked more about [problem gambling] as a nation than right now, and now we’re going to take a step backwards in the Nation’s Capital? There’s money coming into DC and they’re profiting off of this. DC and the mayor, by saying this is going to go away in perpetuity. It’s a failure of their responsibility.”
Although Doura-Schawohl views the $200,000 as “something is better than nothing,” she says the district has yet release any money for problem gambling services.
According to Doura-Schawohl, that total should be roughly $600,000 by now.
Problem gambling services yet to receive any funding
Speaking on behalf of the NCPG before the DC Council Health Committee, Doura-Schawohl said:
“After more than two-and-a-half years of legalized sports betting in the District, DBH [Department of Behavioral Health] has not spent the $200,000 devoted to problem gambling. DBH has confirmed that it has the money but, for some reason, still has not spent it.”
“The legislation is clear that DBH should be funding addiction prevention, treatment, and research to ensure that there are safety nets in place for those who are sure to develop gambling problems. We know from operating our National Problem Gambling Helpline that 3,623 calls to the helpline were made from the District in 2021, a 109% increase from 2020.”
Doura-Schawohl also said 4,892 calls, texts and chats to the NPG helpline were initiated by DC residents in 2022.
But the Nation’s Capital is not the only place with problem gambling issues. In Ohio, a report found a 227% increase in calls to Ohio’s PG Hotline from January 2022 to January 2023.
The old bait-and-switch
The shifting and back-door dealings of politics are nothing new.
Months after legalizing DC sports betting, Bowser succeeded in changing another law. This time, Bowser moved $7 million allocated for violence prevention and early childhood services into the general fund.
At the time, City Administrator Rashad Young said:
“We have looked at the dedication of resources for specific purposes and we think the better way to approach this from a policy perspective is to allow those resources to flow to the general fund, determine what our policy priorities are, and make those funding decisions accordingly.”
Following the law change, DC Council Member Robert White told the Washington Informer:
“Selling sports betting as a funding mechanism for these desperately needed programs, yet during the budget process, redirecting these same funds to be used for general purposes is a classic bait-and-switch.”