The Associated Press and Stephen Whyno
(AP) – When the NFL season kicks off this week, Kentucky residents and visitors — for the first time — will be able to legally place sports bets on something other than horse racing. When they do, some of that money will also fund the state’s first program for people with gambling problems.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for legalized sports betting five years ago, nearly three-fourths of the states have moved swiftly to allow it. State funding for problem gambling services has not kept pace, although more states — like Kentucky — are requiring at least a portion of sports wagering revenues to go toward helping addicted gamblers.
“The funding is starting to flow, but the amount is still clearly inadequate in most states,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. He added: “Most of these amounts are token.”
Legal sports betting operators took in $220 billion during the past five years, generating $3 billion in state and local taxes.
By contrast, states spent an average of 38 cents per capita on problem gambling services in the 2022 fiscal year, ranging from nothing in nine states to $10.6 million in Massachusetts, according the Portland, Oregon-based consulting firm Problem Gambling Solutions Inc. That money, which came from all forms of gambling, went toward services such as telephone helplines, counseling and public awareness campaigns.
The federal government, which spends billions of dollars on substance abuse prevention and treatment, provides nothing for gambling problems.
Advocates in Kentucky, which has a rich horse racing history, had tried for decades to persuade lawmakers to fund services for people with gambling problems. There was no guarantee they would finally succeed when sports betting was proposed.
In fact, Republican state Rep. Michael Meredith did not originally include any funding for problem gambling in his legislation that legalized sports betting. Meredith told The Associated Press he would have preferred to first launch sports wagering, then come back in subsequent years with legislation earmarking problem-gambling funding from all types of betting, including horse racing.
But Meredith couldn’t rally enough support to pass the bill this year until a provision was added dedicating 2.5% of sports wagering taxes and licensing fees to a new problem gambling account, which also can be tapped for alcohol and drug addictions.
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