A recent report by a state government agency states that Maryland is failing to meet the challenge of problem gambling. Gambling addictions in the state are higher than national average, the report says, and Maryland’s funding of addiction resource programs lags behind the norm.
The study was completed by the Department of Legislative Services Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability. It was published earlier this month with some troubling findings.
Maryland, the study finds, experiences between 150 and 190% more incidents of gambling disorder by its citizens than the U.S. average of 4-5%. That figure for Maryland is 8.6%.
Also alarming is the fact that Maryland is spending an estimated 82 cents per resident on problem gambling programs. Nearby Massachusetts, which launched online sports betting in March of 2023, is spending $1.43 per resident on that same resource. The report suggests that more money could help curb Maryland’s incidents of treatment for gambling addiction.
The report recommends that the state expand its source of funding for problem gambling. Current policies draw funding from the eight brick-and-mortar casinos but do not get any money from online sportsbooks.
Calls to the Problem Gambling Hotline have increased by 51% since 2021, the same year Maryland launched online sports betting. But no-cost treatment services operated by the state have seen an 11% drop in that same time.
A study and report were conducted at the bequest of the Joint Audit and Evaluation Committee in the first few months of 2023. The crux of the study was a “performance evaluation of the Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling (the Center), overseen by the Behavioral Health Administration (BHA)…”
The findings startled some who have the obligation to protect consumers in the state.
“We didn’t know how deep the problem was,” state Sen. Clarence Lam, Chair of the Audit and Evaluation Committee, said. “We have a long way to go to address this problem.”
What is the Maryland Problem Gambling Fund?
As part of its efforts to oversee legal gaming in the state, Maryland’s legislature created a department to serve as a watchdog on the issue of gambling addiction.
The Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling was created way back in 2012, years before sports betting was legalized in Maryland. Its mission is to widen the base of knowledge about gambling addiction. The Center is regulated by the Behavioral Health Administration, reporting to the Maryland Department of Health. The Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling has an annual budget of $4.7 million.
The mechanism for funding the Center for Excellence on Problem Gambling is the Problem Gambling Fund (PGF). That fund fuels Maryland’s network of treatment services, while also providing a 24-hour problem gambling hotline. PGF monies also pay for studies such as the one published this month.
How Much is Being Wagered in Maryland?
According to this month’s report, the Maryland online gambling market, including sports betting, casino gaming, and the state lottery, is $4.5 billion per year. The Maryland lottery dwarfs the other two activities, accounting for more than $2.5 billion in spending by consumers in 2022.
Maryland launched legal sports betting apps in Nov. 2022, and that activity, even for a small state, has grown quickly.
Roughly 160 People per Year Receive No-Cost Gambling Addiction Treatment
The report reveals that an estimated “160 people per year receive no-cost treatment paid for by the PGF.” That figure represents those who have been recorded by the state’s treatment centers.
Even with what the report admits is an inadequate spending total on problem gambling in Maryland, the state still exceeds national figures.
Marylanders are more aware of the toll-free hotline (1-800-GAMBLER). In 2010, 43% were aware of that resource, but in 2020, that figure was up to 72%.
In 2020, 398 contacts were made to the 1800-GAMBLER hotline in Maryland. Last year that total was up to 858. In all, more than 3,500 contacts were made to state-operated gambling treatment services in 2022.
The Department of Legislative Services Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability included six recommendations at the end of its report. Those included enhancing the state’s problem gambling website to emphasize the search for treatment centers funded by the state, and also “diversifying of revenue resources into the Problem Gambling Fund.” The Center recommends that the state direct a portion of sports betting tax revenue to the PGF.
Another suggestion is for the state to revise its Voluntary Exclusion Program (VEP) application process “to better facilitate contact between the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling … and VEP enrollees.” That means the state would make it easier for treatment resources to reach out to those in the state who have expressed they may have a gambling addiction or problem with sports betting or casino gaming.