Sports betting sites began taking bets in Virginia in January 2021, and residents have been wagering more and more ever since, including $518.8 million in November.
A bipartisan effort is afoot in Virginia to create a committee that would coordinate efforts to help people with gambling problems, which comes as the commonwealth has seen a surge in legal sports betting and growth in other forms of gaming.
Sports betting sites began taking bets in Virginia in January 2021, and residents have been wagering more and more ever since, including $518.8 million in November, an increase of more than 25% compared to a year earlier.
But sports betting in Virginia is just one avenue of legal gambling in the state — notably, up to five brick-and-mortar casinos were authorized by 2020 legislation, with one already open — and there are concerns about what increased access will mean for addiction rates.
With that in mind, two bills were recently pre-filed in Virginia, ahead of the start of the legislative session next week, which would establish a “Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Advisory Committee.”
Cooperation makes it happen
The state’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services would create the committee. Its purpose, according to the proposed legislation, would be “to enable collaboration among prevention and treatment providers and operators of legal gaming in the Commonwealth on efforts to reduce the negative effects of problem gambling.”
Committee members will come from all over the industry and government, such as the behavioral-health department and the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling, as well as from the state regulatory agencies. Furthermore, one member will have to be a representative of an entity holding a sports-betting license in the state. The committee’s chair will be the department’s problem gambling prevention coordinator.
It will be a bipartisan effort to pass problem-gambling legislation. Republican Sen. Bryce Reeves and Democratic Del. Paul Krizek introduced matching bills in their respective chambers to create the committee.
“As Virginia moves forward with the expansion of gaming, it’s important that we understand the ills that come with it,” Reeves reportedly said in a joint news release with Krizek.
The legislation comes as the sports-betting industry has faced heightened scrutiny recently over its responsible-gaming practices. In Ohio, where legal sports betting began on January 1, the regulator has already proposed fines over alleged advertising violations. And in New York, one lawmaker is proposing a crackdown on “predatory” sportsbook bonuses.
But the industry has also taken flak over the tax revenue it has provided, and Virginia took steps last year to tweak the deductions afforded to online sportsbook operators that provide free bets and other promotions to customers. Operators are now only allowed to make those deductions for a year after they start taking bets in the commonwealth.
Still, the concerns about increased addiction seem to be weighing heaviest on lawmakers’ minds. And the release announcing the committee bill in Virginia noted a 2021 survey that found more than 21% of high schoolers in the state said they had gambled in the past year.
“We know from prevention research that people who begin gambling in their teens are at a higher risk of developing a problem with gambling,” Krizek reportedly said in the release. “And that one of the fastest growing groups to have gambling problems are young adults.”
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