Youngkin signs bipartisan bill creating new committee on gambling addiction

By: - April 24, 2023 12:02 am

(Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

Much of the discussion surrounding Virginia’s push toward state-sanctioned gambling has focused on how much money it might bring in for the state and local governments eager for new tax revenue. But state policymakers are taking a new step this year to try to create a more coordinated approach to gambling addiction, a less publicized downside of Virginians’ newly convenient access to casinos, slot machines and sports betting.

Last month, Gov. Glenn Youngkin approved a bill creating a Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Advisory Committee within the state government. Its mission, according to the legislation, will be to “reduce the negative effects” of gambling on those who may be unable to control their habit.

In a news release earlier this month, Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, noted that Virginia’s annual youth survey indicated that almost two-thirds of Virginians between the ages of 18 and 25 had gambled within the last month.

“As a father, it pains me to see how our youth have been affected by gambling and all the ills that come with it,” Reeves, one of the bill’s sponsors, said in the release. “The Virginia Problem Gambling Hotline has seen a 143% increase in calls over the last few years, which I feel is deeply representative of this growing issue. I look forward to the committee’s establishment this July and the progress they will make in ensuring Virginians are given the knowledge, tools and abilities to prevent and overcome gambling addiction.”

The bill creating the committee sailed through the General Assembly without controversy, passing by unanimous votes in both legislative chambers.

For decades, the primary form of legalized gambling in the state was the Virginia Lottery, and state lawmakers were resistant to any form of casino-style gambling. That started to change in 2018, when the General Assembly passed a bill allowing slots-like historical horse racing machines in order to seal a deal for a new buyer to purchase and reopen the Colonial Downs race track. 

In 2020, the legislature legalized sports betting in Virginia and allowed a small number of cities to pursue casino projects, some of which are now starting to open to the betting public. The state has also legalized charity poker tournaments and expanded online gambling through the Virginia Lottery.

The legislature has tried to ban another widely available type of gambling — so-called skill machines in convenience stores and sports bars that also resemble slots — but that ban is stalled as the industry challenges the prohibition in court.

Once the new law takes effect July 1, the committee will be made up of state regulators who oversee the lottery, casinos, sports betting, horse racing and charitable gaming; representatives from each of those gambling sectors; a representative from the nonprofit Virginia Council on Problem Gambling; the executive director of a local community services board; and the state’s problem gambling prevention coordinator. The latter role is part of the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, the state agency that works to address addiction, suicide and other mental health issues.

“Problem gambling is a public health issue. It impacts Americans of all ages, ethnicities, races and genders,” Del. Paul Krizek, D-Alexandria, said during a committee hearing earlier this year on the House version of the bill.

The new committee is not expected to have a significant public expense, and state officials said any “minimal administrative costs” could be covered with existing resources.


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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.