Responsible Gambling, Consumer Groups Criticize MD Sports Bill

Responsible Gambling, Consumer Groups Criticize MD Sports Bill
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The Maryland state Senate will take up a sports wagering bill during a public hearing next week that has already been passed in the state’s House of Delegates, but that bill is drawing criticism from advocates for responsible gaming and consumer protections.

The bill, HB940, establishes licensing guidelines for retail and online sports wagering with attendant provisions that strongly encourage minority- and female-owned equity participation in the sports wagering industry. The state Senate is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill at 1 p.m. on March 25.

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However, while HB 940 does mention concerns about disordered gaming and provides some additional funding in the form of unclaimed winning wagers being passed to a fund that goes toward problem gambling, some advocates for responsible gaming and consumer protections said it does not go far enough. Specifically, some contend, it falls short of sports wagering legislation in neighboring District of Columbia and Virginia, where a Sports Bettors Bill of Rights was folded into sports gambling law.

"HB 940 has its merits but does almost nothing to protect consumers," said Brian Hess, executive director of Sports Fans Coalition. "I wish the House had consulted us on how to protect consumers from the dangers of sports betting properly. Virginia and the District of Columbia have fully adopted the Sports Bettors' Bill of Rights, and Maryland should not be the only sister in the DMV that fails to protect its citizens.

”The Sports Bettors' Bill of Rights includes Integrity and Transparency, Data Privacy and Security, Self-Exclusion, Protection of the Vulnerable, and Recourse. The Senate should grant Marylanders the same rights Virginians and Washingtonians enjoy.”

In Virginia, legislation provides that 2.5% of the tax money that comes from sports wagering revenue go to a fund that is used to deal with problem gambling. Maryland also has such a fund which, legislators have said in the past, is underutilized. Hess, who suggests a contribution of 1% of sports wagering revenues, argues that online sports betting has the potential to expose a new cohort to gambling in a far more accessible way than the land-based casinos already in Maryland.

Such a fund, Hess said, “is like insurance … you may not need it right now but you want it available.” And if such a fund is overfunded and underutilized, the contributions can be redirected in future years, he said.

The office for House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne Jones, the sponsor of HB940, had not responded immediately to an inquiry regarding criticisms of the bill.

Responsible Gambling Groups Concerned

Hess was not alone in criticism of the Maryland bill.

"Maryland is the latest state to float legislation that legalizes sports betting without boosting critical funding for prevention and treatment of gambling addictions,” said Patrick Willard, director of policy and advocacy for the National Council on Problem Gambling. “Maryland must dedicate a bigger portion of new sports betting revenue to invest in additional responsible gambling measures and treatment programs."

The National Consumers League, the nation’s oldest consumer protection organization, expressed concern on that front. "The lack of (consumer) protections in HB 940 should be remedied by the Maryland Senate to ensure that sports betting in the state is conducted in as safe a manner as possible," said John Breyault, National Consumers League vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud.

EPIC Risk Management, an international consulting firm that advises clients on how to mitigate gambling problems, had pointed criticism.

"Considering sports bettors are twice as likely to engage in problematic play, it is concerning that there is not even one mention of responsible gambling requirements. This utter disregard for necessary safeguards and responsible gambling policies compounded with the lack of a stable, dedicated, and protected funding stream for problem gambling research, prevention, treatment, and recovery services for problem gambling; fails to create a safe and sustainable gambling market,” said Brianne Doura, vice president for U.S. policy and strategic development at EPIC Risk Management.

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