Problem Gambling Funding Stripped From Washington, D.C. 2024 Budget

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Gambling sector lobby groups and trade associations have been out in force this week in Washington D.C. They are angry about Mayor Muriel Bowser quietly cutting the budget for problem gambling services in the city. That’s while still retaining a provision that takes $200,000 a year in taxes from gambling operators to fund such services.

As Washington, D.C.-based investigative outlet DCist reported at the end of last month, more than $800,000 has been paid out to the local authority since sports betting was legalized in the nation’s capital in 2018. However, critics say there’s no evidence a single penny of that has been spent on the intended purpose.

Now, the City’s Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) has published its 2024 budget plans, and it contains no mention of any problem gambling funds forthcoming.

Complimenting Programs

Chief among the voices calling for more clarity on this funding issue were The Sports Betting Association. The SBA represents two of the four legal sportsbook operators in DC, BetMGM and FanDuel.

SBA Spokesman Jeremy Kudon wrote an open letter to the committee discussing the budget.

“Consumers are provided substantial responsible gaming resources and messaging directly through the app,” wrote Kudon. “These internal protections are most effective when complemented by a publicly- administered problem gaming treatment and prevention program.”

The $200,000 claimed in earmarked gambling revenues by the City each year represents just a tiny fraction of the overall D.C. yearly budget of $10.6 billion.

Campaigners argue that the gambling sector’s goodwill on this issue should be respected. But some city staff back Mayor Bowser’s position that agencies are able to offer support and treatment without needing the extra cash.

Others are not so sure. The DBH submitted an open job advertisement for a problem gambling expert contractor last year, and the position was never filled. It also said in a report last year that “the District may be significantly underserving this population,” noting it received nearly 4000 helpline calls in 2022. That’s a 30% increase on the previous year.

Gambling Missteps

The American Gaming Association also weighed in on the issue.

“Unfortunately, this is only the latest misstep by the DC government in their effort to offer a viable legal sports betting market. The AGA will work with other stakeholders to ensure the District makes good on their obligation to provide problem gambling resources, as well as continue to highlight the need for a competitive mobile marketplace that will increase revenue to fund these important commitments,” said AGA Vice President Chris Cylke.

The “competitive mobile marketplace” refers to another contentious issue within DC’s sports betting structure.

The only operator legally allowed to offer mobile sports betting, the state backed GambetDC, was last year labelled a “failed operation”.

Troubled European operator Intralot has provided GambetDC’s platform since launch in 2020. However it has been plagued by claimed “operational challenges,” and has failed to meet revenue targets almost every month.

The total sports betting handle for D.C. in February was $12.6 million – down 34% on the previous February.

Although the District was one of the first places in the US to allow physical sports betting at stadiums, a practice that may soon be expanded to all NFL stadiums in legal states, the failure of the mobile betting market to capture customers has hit expected revenues hard.

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