During this session, I spent much of my time working on various efforts related to problem gambling prevention and treatment. As the former Chair of the ABC & Gaming subcommittee as well as the Appropriations subcommittee on Transportation and Public Safety, I am highly attuned to the gaps that exist in public safety related to supporting Virginians with gambling addictions. To help raise awareness about this issue, I gave a point of personal privilege speech on the House Floor last week on problem gambling:
“As all of you know, just three years ago this body granted five cities across the Commonwealth the opportunity to petition voters to build casinos and so far, four cities have held successful referendums to do so.
Sports betting, online Lottery, historic horse racing machines, live horse races and charitable gaming have all expanded, and unregulated skill games, or “gray machines” have spread to convenience stores, truck stops, and restaurants all over the Commonwealth. They are in all of your districts.
Gaming expansion is a double-edged sword. It has brought jobs, tourism, and tax revenue to the Commonwealth, as well as raised funds for charities that help millions of Virginians. But, it would be remiss of this body to forget that with gaming expansion, we have also opened the door to an increase in gambling addiction.
Problem gambling affects approximately 2-3% of US adults, or 4-6 million people. It impacts Americans of all ages, ethnicities, races, and genders. Differing from a substance abuse disorder, gambling addiction is an impulse-control disorder in which sufferers cannot control the impulse to gamble despite the fact that it is causing problems in their lives and the lives of their loved ones.
If left untreated, gambling addiction can become very serious and can impact every aspect of an individual’s life, including family, work, and finances. Sadly, those who have a gambling addiction are twice as likely to die by suicide compared to other common addictions.
Fortunately, problem gambling is treatable, and treatment is effective in minimizing harm to both individuals and society. The Virginia Council on Problem Gambling is doing excellent work on responsible gambling education, as well as providing access to support and treatment of gambling addiction to help Virginians get back on their feet. This includes a 24/7 hotline that has seen an increase in calls of 56.7% in the past year. The helpline number is 1-888-532-3500.
As we transition into a gaming-friendly Commonwealth, this body has a duty to prepare for and address the negative public health aspects of this too.
This upcoming March marks the 20th year of National Problem Gambling Awareness Month. In fact, this body still has the opportunity to vote on a measure coming over from the Senate, SJ 232, that would codify this designation in Virginia as a permanent education and destigmatization tool for public health.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.”
I am happy to report that SJ 232, which is identical to my HJ 518, has since passed the House unanimously. Problem Gambling Awareness Month will now be recognized in the Commonwealth every March. In addition, my bill HB 1465, which creates the Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Advisory Committee, has passed the Senate unanimously and is headed to the Governor’s desk. This bipartisan effort will enable collaboration and long-term relationship building among prevention and treatment providers and operators of legal gaming in the Commonwealth in efforts to combat problem gambling.
If you or somebody you know is struggling with gambling addiction, please visit www.vcpg.net to chat online, or call or text this confidential and toll-free 24/7 helpline: 1-888-532-3500.