Sports betting gold rush leaves problem gamblers behind 
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State lawmakers are wrapping up their 2021 sessions with an eye on the expansion of gambling options to bring in new revenues for state coffers. This rapid expansion across the nation in the three years since the Supreme Court gave the green light to states on sports betting is further straining the patchwork of services for people with gambling disorders. The resources and treatment available for those with a hidden gambling addiction is not keeping pace with the breakneck speed at which state lawmakers are embracing legalized gambling. 

Since 2018, when the Supreme Court ruled in Murphy v. NCAA that states have the authority to allow sports betting, 30 states plus DC have opened up the betting windows for wagers on games. The sports betting laws have been adopted in states much more quickly than the lotteries that states now sponsor. Those lotteries rolled out slowly over decades and even now have not been adopted in five states. 

In addition to allowing sports betting, states are making it legal for bets to be made online or with mobile apps. But the rules for these new ways to make a bet differ from state to state. And in many cases, state lawmakers are relying mainly on the promises of technology and operators to protect consumers and prevent problem gambling. 

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The funding for problem gambling treatment and prevention services is not included in many of the proposals to expand gambling despite calls by the National Council on Problem Gambling for dedicated funds based on gambling revenues.  

One example can be found in Florida, where legislators approved a compact that Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisBanning ideas in schools isn't the answer — parents must be active citizens DeSantis tops Trump in 2024 presidential straw poll Florida governor adept student of Trump playbook MORE negotiated with the Seminole tribe to expand wagering, including online sports betting across the state. The compact, which is anticipated to spark billions of dollars in sports bets and hundreds of millions to the state, provided no increase in the amount of funds from gambling revenues for problem gambling services. 

The differing responses by states to the gambling expansion deserves attention on the national level. Gambling disorder is an addiction like substance abuse addictions. As states like Florida rush expand gambling, it is especially timely to note this emerging danger while lawmakers weigh the costs and revenues of new legalized gambling options.  

This will ultimately result in a race to the bottom leaving families burdened with gambling-related addiction, bankruptcy and crime mental health crises and other financial burdens. The National Council on Problem Gambling and states are already seeing a rise in calls to gambling helplines as the nation emerges from the isolation of the pandemic. Now is the time for raising the awareness of this hidden addiction and ensuring comprehensive programs to prevent, treat and research problem gambling are available in every state, especially those with legalized sports betting.   

Keith Whyte serves as the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, which is the national non-profit advocate for programs and services to assist problem gamblers and their families.