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D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has proposed cutting $1.3 million from the budget for problem gambling services, which has caused alarm among local stakeholders about the potential impact on those suffering from problem gambling.
Critics of this decision contend that without adequate funding for problem gambling services, individuals struggling with addiction may not receive the help they need to overcome their issues, resulting in costly financial losses and other negative outcomes over time.
Additionally, Bowser's decision has generated concerns about the city's commitment to responsible gambling practices due to recent legislation legalizing sports betting in D.C. It is feared that without proper preventative measures in place, the number of individuals facing difficulties associated with problem gambling could increase dramatically.
Despite more than two-and-a-half years of legalized sports betting in the city, the Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) has not spent the $200,000 allocated for problem gambling services. This amount should have grown to roughly $600,000 by now.
Brianne Doura-Schawohl, the leading lobbyist for the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), testified before the DC Council Health Committee in February. She revealed that DBH has the funds but has yet to spend them.
According to Brianne Doura-Schawohl, it seems like Mayor Bowser's move to cut funding for problem gambling services was just an attempt to balance the budget.
"We’ve never talked more about [problem gambling] as a nation than right now, and now we’re going to take a step backward in the nation’s capital?" Doura-Schawohl exclaimed. "There’s money coming into D.C., and they’re profiting off of this. D.C. and the mayor, by saying this is going to go away in perpetuity. It’s a failure of their responsibility."
In 2022, 4,892 calls, texts, and chats were initiated by D.C. residents to the National Problem Gambling Helpline.
New York and Ohio are leading the way in funding problem gambling services. New York's annual budget for problem gambling programs is $6 million, while Ohio allocated $4.4 million to its problem gambling fund last fiscal year.
However, not all states are dedicating sufficient funds towards problem gambling services. In 2021, some states allocated less than $1 million yearly to problem gambling services. This lack of funding can have serious consequences for those struggling with addiction, and advocacy efforts are underway to increase funding in these states.
Advocacy efforts have been underway to oppose the proposed cut in funding for problem gambling services in Washington, D.C. The D.C. Lottery recently announced a partnership with the National Council on Problem Gambling to provide responsible gambling resources and support services. While this is a positive step, many argue that it is not enough and that the city needs to ensure adequate funding for problem gambling services.
The proposed cut has also raised concerns about the potential increase in gambling-related problems as sports betting becomes legal in D.C. According to a National Council on Problem Gambling survey, one in five people who gamble on sports will develop a gambling problem.
D.C. lawmakers are currently reviewing Mayor Bowser's proposal, and it remains to be seen whether it will pass. In any case, it highlights an important issue regarding allocating public funds to provide necessary services for those struggling with addiction while supporting other important initiatives within the city.