Maryland Senate Bill On Problem Gambling Gains Momentum

Written By Phil West on March 27, 2024
A picture of a pendulum for a story about how a Maryland Senate problem gambling bill is gaining momentum.

A bill on problem gambling is gaining momentum in the Maryland Senate.

Members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee gave Senate Bill 878 a favorable report, with amendments, from its Feb. 28 hearing.

Two weeks later, the Senate floor unanimously passed it and sent it to the House. The House introduced the legislation and referred it to the House Ways and Means Committee.

The committee will hear the bill on Thursday at 1 p.m.

The bill calls for “the Department of Health to conduct certain prevalence studies concerning problem and pathological mobile gambling, with an initial study to be completed by July 1, 2029; and altering the distribution of certain state lottery, fantasy competition and sports wagering proceeds.”

The legislation comes as the Senate considers a House bill to legalize Maryland online casinos. If the bill passes in its current form, it will take effect July 1.

SB 878 would divert tax revenue to a problem gambling fund

The state has several resources and tools to promote responsible gambling in Maryland. Some include the state’s Voluntary Exclusion Program and 800-GAMBLER help line.

The author of SB 878, Sen. Katherine Klausmeier, pointed out in her testimony that the measure creates funding to combat problem gambling.

“Senate Bill 878 requires 1% of state lottery funds that currently go to the general fund to be diverted to the problem gambling fund. The bill also requires 1% of profits earned by fantasy competition and sports wagering operators to be diverted to the fund.

“I want to highlight that unlike last year’s bill, this bill does not take any revenue from gaming away from the Blueprint (for Maryland’s Future). This year’s bill would have funds come from the operator’s share of profit.”

Live! reps say more research needed on mobile betting

Klausmeier had two allies in the hearing representing Maryland’s casino industry with her. Both testified against an iGaming bill on the same day.

Mark Stewart, executive vice president and general counsel of The Cordish Companies, and Rob Garagiola with Compass Advocacy, both representing Live! Casino, expressed concerns about the dangers of iGaming. They encouraged more work to be done to understand it through this bill.

Stewart testified Feb. 28 that mobile sports betting makes it too easy to place bets.

“With in-person sports betting at the casino, you have to get out of your house, you have to get into your car or an Uber, get to the casino, hit an ATM, go to a kiosk or a teller and place your bet. With mobile sports betting, you can bet anywhere at any time on your smartphone with your credit card.”

He added that the state has only had mobile sports betting for a year, and that professionals working with problem gamblers here have “already seen increases in problems, but they do not yet have the data and do not yet know the full scope of how mobile gambling is impacting Marylanders.”

Garagiola echoed Stewart.

“What we do know is, in other states, the impacts have been pretty scary; three times to four times as many problem gambling concerns from individuals in those states.”

He addressed the dangers of iGaming specifically in his testimony on that bill.

Organization has seen an increase in calls for help

Marylanders currently have a resource in the form of the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling, affiliated with the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The testimony included several representatives from that institution.

Ken Wolfson works at the center and is the first-ever Maryland-certified gambling peer recovery support specialist. Wolfson testified that he has seen a significant rise in calls from people suffering from gambling problems.

“A typical day is anything but typical. Driving down to work, my cell phone is already ringing with callers seeking help.”

He then described days filled with presentations to help spread the word about recognizing and treating problem gambling, as well as working with individuals seeking help.

Photo by PlayMaryland
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Phil West

Phil West is a longtime journalist based in Austin, Texas, whose bylines have appeared in The Daily Dot, Nautilus, Pro Soccer USA, Howler, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Chronicle. He has also written two books about soccer.

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