When It Comes To Problem Gambling, Sports Betting Legislation Is Falling Short

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On Monday, the US Supreme Court sent shockwaves throughout the sports and gaming worlds when it issued its decision on Murphy (nee Christie) vs. The NCAA.

In the decision, the court called the decades-old federal prohibition on sports betting, PASPA, unconstitutional, thereby paving the way for states to legalize sports betting.

The decision marks a pivotal moment in US gaming history. Even before the decision was rendered, states were putting forth rushed pieces of legislation. Now that the Supreme Court has weighed in, legislative efforts are expected to become even more frenetic.

In their rush, states are introducing and passing flawed legislation.

Where’s the problem gambling language?

One aspect that has been lost amidst the headline-grabbing issues of revenue and integrity fees for professional sports leagues, is the impact on problem gambling.

“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court is the largest potential expansion of gambling in our nation’s history now that an additional 49 states have the opportunity to legalize sports betting. NCPG believes the expansion of legalized sports gambling in the United States will likely increase gambling participation and gambling problems unless steps are taken to minimize harm,” Marlene Warner, president of the National Council on Problem Gambling Board of Directors, said in a press release following the SCOTUS ruling.

Unfortunately, in their excitement to start realizing revenue from sports betting as soon as possible, states are failing on this front. Not a single piece of sports betting legislation that has been passed has properly addressed problem gambling.

Considering the improvements made on this front in recent history (e.g. Massachusetts 2011 casino legislation and New Jersey’s 2013 online gaming legislation), the failure to address problem gambling in these sports betting bills is a major setback.

As such, sports betting now stands to be a watershed moment for states and the gaming industry when it comes to responsible gaming policy and problem gambling initiatives.

So far, they’re failing the test.

Everyone from the states to the leagues to the casino and gaming interests has their hand out to personally benefit from the legalization of sports betting. But no one is lifting a finger to mitigate any of the harms associated with it.

What’s the rush?

According to Keith Whyte, the executive director of the NCPG, despite the groups best efforts, the states that have tackled sports betting have all but ignored the implications legal sports betting will have on problem gambling.

“As the national advocate for problem gamblers and their families, NCPG encourages everyone involved in the expansion of sports betting to work with us to minimize harm and maximize sustainability. NCPG is neutral on legalized gambling and works with all facets of the industry, including legislators, regulators, operators, manufacturers, customers, and health care, as well as the recovery community,” Whyte said in the NCPG press release.

And it’s not from a lack of effort. In addition to making themselves available to legislatures, the NCPG has produced two documents aimed at educating legislators on problem gambling topics and providing guidance in best practices:

  • The Resolution on the Legalization of Sports Gambling in February that, “calls upon all stakeholders [legislators and regulators, leagues and teams, and the media] in the discussion over legalized sports gambling to recognize the potential impact on gambling addiction.”
  • The Responsible Gaming Principles for Sports Gambling Legislation in March “that provide a basis for new regulations and legislation…” These “principles will help protect individuals, gaming companies, and legislators by assisting the creation of reasonable efforts to prevent harm and provide treatment.”

The response so far has been… crickets.

If they get their integrity fee, the leagues will also bear responsibility

As Whyte indicated, it’s not just state lawmakers and the gaming companies who are ignoring the problem gambling elephant in the room.

If professional sports leagues want to directly benefit from sports betting by collecting a so-called integrity fee, then they should also be required to contribute to responsible gaming initiatives.

“Everyone who profits from sports betting bears responsibility for gambling problems. The only ethical and economical way to maximize benefits from sports betting is to minimize problem gambling harm,” Whyte said. “Therefore, any governmental body and sports league that receives a direct percentage or portion of sports betting revenue must also dedicate funds to prevent and treat gambling problems.”

In a statement to PlayNJ, Whyte added:

“If the leagues receive a direct cut of each sports bet they have a higher ethical obligation to devote a percentage of those profits to mitigate harm from gambling addiction as some of that money comes from the pockets of problem gamblers.”

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Sports betting bills need a responsibility fee

The bottom line is this: Any state that wants to pass a responsible sports betting bill must include specific provisions and non-trivial funding for problem gambling initiatives and treatment.

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Steve Ruddock

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Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.