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Maryland problem gambling center struggles with growing demand

Jack Hogan//June 1, 2023

Maryland problem gambling center struggles with growing demand

By Jack Hogan

//June 1, 2023

As Maryland’s sports betting market expands, a center that assists those suffering from a gambling problem has struggled to keep pace with a growing demand for help and an increase in pro-betting advertising.

On Thursday, the online retailer and betting company Fanatics, which has a sportsbook facility inside the Washington Commanders’ FedEx Field, became Maryland’s 10th active mobile sportsbook. There are 10 also active retail sportsbooks in the state.

Since Maryland opened to mobile sports betting in November, there has been an increase in calls to the help hotline at The Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling, said Director Mary Drexler.

Drexler has also seen a rise in texts and chat messages to the hotline, an indicator of how sports betting can increase problem gambling among young people.

The rate of gambling problems is at least twice as high among sports bettors as it is among gamblers in general, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. Problem sports gambling is even more likely when the betting is done online.

The Maryland center does not yet have a public data set to show the increase in demand for help, but a state legislative committee is expected to release a six-month evaluation of the center in July, which will provide data and recommendations for lawmakers, Drexler said.

In September, the center is scheduled to publish its annual report, which will offer more clarity on the scope of problem gambling in Maryland since the implementation of mobile sports betting.

While a funding stream for problem gambling was part of the legalization of slot machines, video lottery terminals and table games in Maryland, state lawmakers left it out when implementing sports wagering.

Sportsbooks are required to direct unclaimed prizes to the state’s problem gambling fund, but lawmakers have said that about 9 in 10 wagers in the state are through mobile operators, which automatically pay out winnings to a bettor’s account.

A proposal to distribute 1% of state proceeds — or about $480,000 next fiscal year — from sports wagering to the problem gambling fund didn’t gain traction in the last legislative session.

Between December 2021 and April 2023, $1.9 million in unclaimed prizes went to the problem gambling fund, according to the Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency. All of the unclaimed prize money was from in-person betting.

The state’s problem gambling fund — mostly comprising tax revenue from video lottery terminals and table games — usually reaches between $4 million and $5 million, and between $2 million and $2.4 million goes to The Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling, Drexler said.

More money from the problem gambling fund would help the center pay for more robust counter-marketing campaigns to combat the billions of dollars that sportsbooks spend on advertising each year and to increase support for the more than 400 people seeking help “at any given time,” among other measures Drexler outlined in testimony to state lawmakers.

Drexler said she expects to return to Annapolis for the next legislative session, which begins in January, to testify again in favor of distributing a percentage of sports betting revenue to the problem gambling fund.

She also expects Maryland state lawmakers to propose legalizing iGaming.

The Lottery and Gaming Control Agency is expected to submit to state lawmakers by mid-November a report on iGaming in other states, the potential benefits of a legal iGaming market in Maryland and the impact it could have on problem gambling.

In the meantime, Maryland’s mobile sports betting market is likely to grow, as the Lottery and Gaming Control Agency is expected to grant 11 more mobile sportsbook licenses.

Maryland’s sports wagering law allowed for up to 60 mobile licenses, but just 21 companies applied.


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