DC sports betting woes continue with controversy around problem gambling funds

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While many states are introducing legislation that guarantees funding responsible gambling, Washington DC is making the surprising choice to scale back funding for RG efforts in the District.

Mayor wants to reallocate problem gambling funds that aren’t being used

Local NPR Reporter Martin Asutermuhle noted on Twitter that Mayor Muriel Bowser’s budget is seeking to repeal a measure that sets aside the first $200,000 of sports betting-related tax revenue for problem gambling initiatives.

What adds a level of intrigue to this choice is a recent letter to the DC Council Health Committee from the National Council on Problem Gambling’s Brianne Doura-Schawohl imploring the group to mandate the DC Department of Behavioral Health (DBH), which is under the oversight of the committee, to actually spend the allocated funds.

According to Doura-Schawohl, the NCPG repeatedly asked about how the DBH is using those funds. For the first two years, the council told NCPG they would eventually get around to a request for proposals. However, when that time came, it wasn’t exactly a thorough process.

“Last fall, DBH finally issued an RFQ that remained open for less than two weeks before it was closed and DBH reported that there were no satisfactory quotes. This is not surprising given how short of a time the RFQ was open and how poorly it was advertised. The legislation is clear that DBH should be funding addiction prevention, treatment, and research to ensure that there are safety nets in place for those who are sure to develop gambling problems as legalized gambling expands,” wrote Doura-Schawohl.

AGA questions the set up for DC sports betting

Even though the money is not being used, the American Gaming Association (AGA) still spoke out against Bowser’s attempt to reallocate those funds to something else. AGAG Senior Vice President Chris Cylke issues the following statement on LinkedIn over the weekend:

“Unfortunately, this is only the latest misstep by the DC government in their effort to offer a viable legal sports betting market. The AGA will work with other stakeholders to ensure the District makes good on their obligation to provide problem gambling resources, as well as continue to highlight the needs for a competitive mobile marketplace that will increase revenue to fund these important commitments.”

As Cylke noted, the DC online sports betting industry is conducted as a lottery monopoly through Gambet, an app powered by Intralot. Results have not been great and handle has plummeted by 50% year-over-year over the past two months. The brick-and-mortar sportsbooks regularly outpace the online betting app, which has been criticized for its high rake and limited markets.

Late last year, the Washington City Paper wrote an expose suggesting the Intralot contract was awarded via political connections and the firm was overcompensated and underdelivered.