March has been designated as Problem Gambling Awareness Month, a time when all Americans need to understand the depth and breadth of an issue that deserves more recognition. For legislators around the United States, however, awareness is simply not enough.
Our responsibility is to affirmatively address problem gambling, and help those whose families, life savings, livelihoods, and lives are at risk. The National Council on Problem Gambling, which has led the effort to increase awareness and action, has succinctly summarized this issue in words that are chilling: “Problem gambling or gambling addiction includes all gambling behavior patterns that compromise, disrupt or damage personal, family or vocational pursuits. In extreme cases, problem gambling can result in financial ruin, legal problems, loss of career and family, or even suicide.”
The Council also estimates that 2 million U.S. adults “meet criteria for severe gambling problems in a given year. Another 4-6 million would be considered to have mild or moderate gambling problems.” And this says nothing of the growing population of youth that are increasingly hooked.
Juxtapose that data against the growth of all forms of legal gambling in the United States. The commercial and tribal gaming industries now have estimated annual revenues of more than $100 billion, while US lottery sales in FY2019 exceeded $91 billion.
As more states adopt multiple forms of gaming, those numbers will continue to increase. States are clearly profiting from the growth of gaming through various fiscal streams, which underscores the need to do what we can to help those who need help.
As president of the I have the responsibility of leading an effort to arm states with strategies to help achieve that goal. We are in the process of drafting a resolution that will list specific actions that states can consider adopting.
The resolution can be expected to include various strategies. We know from past hearings that the response to problem gambling in the United States is disjointed and mostly privately run. And amazingly, the states where most of the legal activity takes place (including my own Nevada), spend the least on treatment programs as a function of gross gaming revenue (GGR). We expect the resolution to include honest evaluations of what we are doing collectively, and concrete recommendations for what more we can do to help this growing population.
Our work in developing recommendations for states will continue at our Summer Meeting July 9-12 in Boston, where various professionals will offer their thoughts and suggestions.
Legislators do not have the luxury of simply being aware of problem gambling. Nor can we be content with simply acknowledging this problem one month out of every year. We have to take necessary steps to save families from the ravaging impacts of this problem, and to work in partnership with the gaming industry to do just that.