Callers to Virginia's problem gambling hotline often list slot machines, sports betting, skill machines, casino games and scratch-off lottery tickets as the reason they're seeking help. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
It’s gotten a lot easier to gamble in Virginia as the state and local governments chase extra tax dollars from the lottery, casinos, sports betting, horse racing and slots parlors.
But that change has come at a cost for Virginians who struggle with impulse control or have a full-blown gambling addiction, according to a bipartisan pair of state lawmakers who have introduced legislation to create a new committee on problem gambling.
“As Virginia moves forward with the expansion of gaming, it’s important that we understand the ills that come with it,” Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, said in a joint news release announcing the bill co-filed with Del. Paul Krizek, D-Fairfax.
As more forms of legal gambling have become available, a Virginia problem gambling hotline has reported a sustained increase in calls from people seeking assistance. The hotline, run by the nonprofit Virginia Council on Problem Gambling, has seen a 143% increase in intake calls over the last three years, with 816 calls last year from Virginia residents seeking help with gambling issues. In 2020, the hotline received 335 intake calls.
The new legislation calls for the establishment of a Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Advisory Committee by the state’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, which already deals with addiction and mental health issues. Its mission would be to “enable collaboration” between treatment providers and the gambling industry “on efforts to reduce the negative effects of problem gambling.”
The new problem gambling committee, if approved, would be chaired by the state’s problem gambling prevention coordinator, a position recently created within DBHDS, and feature representatives from all state agencies that regulate gambling. The gambling industry, which is legally required to direct people struggling with addiction to resources that could help them break the habit, would have seats on the panel as well. There would also be a spot for someone from the problem gambling council, which runs its hotline with funding from the Virginia Lottery but is not an official government entity.
In the lawmakers’ news release announcing the initiative, Krizek pointed to 2021 survey data showing that more than 21% of Virginia high schoolers said they had gambled or placed a bet in the past year. Addressing gambling problems among young people, Krizek said, must be a priority for state policymakers.
“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 said. “And that one of the fastest growing groups to have gambling problems are young adults.”
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