Can Problem Gambling Funding In VA Keep Up With Rise In Sports Betting Issues?

Written By Phil West on January 3, 2024 - Last Updated on January 4, 2024
Photo of a lock over a keyboard, cards and dice on a story about Virginia's funding for gambling issues.

A recent report noted that even though Virginia is receiving more funding to help problem gamblers, it might need much more.

Problems associated with sports betting are on the rise, and younger bettors have become the most vulnerable. The ease of mobile wagering is speeding up the addictive process.

So, moving forward, can Virginia responsible gambling resources maintain adequate funding for problem gambling programs to meet the ever-increasing need?

Resources to combat problem gambling have increased since 2019 in VA

The VCU Capital News Service report noted that in 2019, before casino and sports betting were legalized in the state, “Virginia ranked near the bottom of all states in the amount of money directed toward problem gambling.”

The Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Fund was created in 2020 when gambling expanded in Virginia. Collection of revenue into the fund began in January 2021. Senate Bill 836, which went into effect on July 1, created the Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Advisory Committee. It is dedicated to providing more responsible gambling resources throughout Virginia.

According to the Capital News Service report:

“Casinos are now required to put .8% of a statutory tax into casino adjusted gross revenue, the money left after winning bets are paid, into the gambling help fund. Sports wagering sends 2.5% of taxed AGR to the fund.

“Virginia significantly bumped up its support in 2022 and gave around $2 million to problem gambling services according to numbers from NAADGS (National Association of Administrators for Disordered Gambling Services).”

A 2019 report to the state advocating for funding problem gambling resources, however, said as much as $6 million annually might be necessary.

Ease of online sports betting attracting younger bettors

Carolyn Hawley, an associate professor of rehabilitation counseling at VCU and president of the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling, told Capital News that sports betting is behind the recent rise in problem gambling.

“We’ve seen a huge shift, and this has been seen nationwide also. With the onset of sports betting legalization is a much younger demographic. People are starting to develop problems really quick … it’s that speed, that repetitive nature, that works with dopamine and just, you know, accelerates that addictive process.”

Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Commissioner Nelson Smith told the Virginia Mercury that “roughly 2% of Virginia’s population could be impacted by problem gambling.”

More and more people are requesting help with problem gambling, Hawley said.

“The state problem gambling helpline has seen a 788% increase in total calls between 2019 and 2022, in part due to increased advertising of the services.”

Virginia actually paying more than expected to problem gambling programs

In November 2023, Virginia casinos contributed $82,000 to the fund, while sports betting generated around $137,000. Extrapolated out to a full year, it would be more than $2.6 million.

That’s despite only three casinos currently in operation in the state. November revenue was slightly up from October’s figures. A proposed casino in Norfolk is attempting to clear an administrative hurdle next week that would allow construction to start this spring.

In September, the Mercury reported that “Virginia is collecting more tax revenue from sports betting and casinos than fiscal analysts predicted four years ago when the state was considering legalizing more types of gambling.”

Former Virginia Lottery Executive Director Kelly Gee says it’s a good start.

“You can see pretty clearly a sharp growth trend in collections for the first three years … It’s impossible to know if this activity will continue at this rate. But it’s an impressive start by all measures.”

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Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

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