What Happens To Problem Gamblers In D.C. After Budget Cut?

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Washington D.C.’s 2024 fiscal year budget removed $200,000 of annual funding for problem gambling resources generated by sports betting revenue, a move that was strongly opposed by responsible gambling advocates. 

“In their decision to repeal funding for vital health services, D.C. leaves thousands of people without help or hope,” consultant Brianne Doura-Schawohl previously told Sports Handle

Washington D.C.’s Department of Behavioral Health disagrees, believing it can still offer the necessary resources for problem gamblers in the District. 

“The Department of Behavioral Health is committed to providing a range of services in the public behavioral health care system to meet the needs of all residents,” a DBH spokesperson told Sports Handle

What resources exist?

If a problem gambler in Washington D.C., wants help, the DBH says sufficient treatment options exist. The D.C. Lottery’s website encourages problem gamblers seeking help to call the National Council on Problem Gambling’s helpline, join a self-exclusion list, or reach out to self-help resources like Gamblers Anonymous

The DBH also suggests those in need take advantage of available counseling options. 

“Treatment and support services for problem gambling disorder currently are available through a network of DBH-certified community-based providers,” the DBH spokesperson said. “In addition, private insurance plans that offer behavioral health services are required to provide the same level of coverage and access to mental health and substance use disorder services.”

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Those private insurance plans can include the option of meeting with therapists in the area, although the level of coverage varies depending on plan. The DBH is working with certified counselors and therapists to improve problem gambling treatment in the area. 

“Treating professionals may include physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, certified addiction counselors, and independently licensed counselors and therapists,” the DBH spokesperson said. “DBH is providing technical assistance and problem-specific training to certified providers to increase their skills with best practice tools and methods and help ensure problem gambling disorder is considered in treatment of the whole person.”

Why are experts disappointed?

Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, says current problem gambling treatment and educational resources in the District are insufficient. 

Whyte said that while private practice providers are available to problem gamblers, not all insurance plans cover problem gambling treatment. Other people might not have insurance, and even if someone’s insurance covers part of treatment, any out-of-pocket expense could be a huge burden. 

“In many cases, the whole reason the gambler is calling is because they’ve run out of their money,” Whyte said. “They’re in debt.”

Other problem gamblers might have good health insurance coverage but don’t want a problem gambling diagnosis on their health records. That concern can be especially strong if they work for the government — as some D.C. residents do — and are fearful their gambling problem could become public and jeopardize their employment status. 

“They’re petrified,” Whyte said. “In some cases, they’re right to be scared, because pathological gambling is specifically excluded from coverage under the Americans with Disabilities Act.” 

With gambling addiction not federally protected, government employees may decide it’s in their best interest to hide their problem rather than seeking help.  

Whyte voiced concerns about not only the resources available for problem gamblers, but the District’s efforts to help prevent gambling problems from occurring. 

“There’s no prevention services for kids and adults in D.C.,” Whyte said. “They’re not getting any preventative messages. … There’s no education, school-based education or public education around either prevention or responsible gambling.”

In previous years, the DBH did not use any of the funding supposed to be dedicated to problem gambling from sports betting revenue, even though it was included in the previous budgets. Whyte and other responsible gambling stakeholders had hoped the District might use those funds to bolster educational efforts. 

“We’re perpetuating the problem,” Whyte said. “We know that prevention and education are the most cost effective and ethical ways to address problem gambling.” 

Whyte and the NCPG hope for Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. council members to consider restoring and using the funding in future budgets.


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