In a historic move, Senator Richard Blumenthal and US Representative Andrea Salinas have introduced the Gambling Addiction Recovery, Investment, and Treatment (GRIT) Act, marking the first-ever federal legislation dedicated to creating funding for the treatment and study of gambling addiction.
The need for the GRIT Act is due to the plight of about 7 million Americans grappling with gambling addiction, resulting in an annual social cost of $7 billion.
Studies conducted by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) reveal a 30% increase in the prevalence of gambling addiction from 2018 to 2021. This surge is attributed to the widespread legalization of gambling activities throughout the United States, especially after the lifting of the sports betting ban.
The proposed legislation seeks to earmark funds for the treatment of problem gambling, tapping into 50% of the revenue generated from the federal sports excise tax. The resulting proceeds will not only provide support to ongoing initiatives such as the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant but also allocate funds for grants to the National Institute of Drug Abuse.
Blumenthal Labels Online Sports Betting Legalization a ‘Perfect Storm’
In Sen. Blumenthal’s view, the GRIT Act represents a timely and imperative response to the pressing challenges posed by the surge in gambling addiction cases.
“The growing legalization of sports and online betting, paired with the ability to place bets from your phone whenever you want have created a perfect storm for gambling addiction,” Blumenthal said. “Dedicated federal resources to tackle problem gambling head-on will provide much-needed support, resources, and treatment for those suffering from gambling addiction. As the number of Americans who are suffering from gambling addiction surges, legislation like the GRIT Act is needed now more than ever.”
Salinas emphasized the bill’s significance, stating that while there are financial allocations dedicated to addressing alcohol and drug dependencies, there exists an absence of federal funds exclusively designated for combating problem gambling.
“Gambling addictions are hurting countless families, children, and communities in Oregon and across America. Yet unlike alcohol and drug addictions, there are currently no federal funds devoted solely to helping stop problem gambling,” said Salinas.
“Our legislation will deliver much-needed resources to states and nonprofits, promoting new research and ensuring more people can get into treatment and recovery.”
NCPG and Others Support the GRIT Act
The GRIT Act has been endorsed by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) and other responsible gaming groups, describing it as a proactive step towards tackling gambling-related harm on a national scale.
Keith Whyte, Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), expressed his appreciation for the leadership demonstrated by Sen. Blumenthal and Salinas.
“The GRIT Act will help address the critical and often overlooked issue of gambling addiction, and I am grateful for the leadership of Senator Blumenthal and Representative Salinas in introducing the bill,” Whyte said.
“The investment into gambling addiction research, prevention, and treatment is a necessary step to minimize gambling-related harm nationwide and reduce its impact on countless American families.”
The 0.25% federal tax on handle has over time come under heavy criticism, with some lawmakers seeking its repeal. Critics argue that the tax is currently not earmarked for any specific cause, and as such, the funding will not result in lost revenue for specific programs.
The proposed legislation has garnered support from additional responsible gaming entities, who have voiced appreciation for the proactive stance taken by the legislators. Among the organizations extending their endorsement are the Oregon Council on Problem Gambling and the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling.
Executive Director, Oregon Council on Problem Gambling, Gina Parziale, said:
“As a coalition of stakeholders from the gaming industry, we are grateful to Congresswoman Salinas for introducing this legislation to benefit Oregonians and all Americans. State health agencies and nonprofits should not have to address gambling problems on our own. As the Federal Government accepts gambling as a source of income, it has a duty-of-care to its citizens to take measures to minimize gambling related harm.”
Executive Director, Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, Diana Goode stated:
“Gambling related harm doesn’t recognize borders between cities and states. That is why this federal initiative to provide much needed funding for prevention, treatment, and research is so vital. In Connecticut we are very fortunate to have a robust set of programs aimed at helping those impacted by problem gambling and their families. This legislation will allow other states to be able to create similar programs to benefit their citizens.”
American Gaming Association Opposes the GRIT Act
The American Gaming Association (AGA) has publicly expressed its opposition to the legislation, advocating for reduced government involvement irrespective of its well-intentioned objectives.
Over the years, the association has consistently advocated for the removal of the federal sports betting excise tax. Chris Cylke, Senior Vice President of Government Relations at AGA, emphasized that although Congress initially introduced the federal tax in 1920 as a mechanism to combat illegal gambling operations, its current existence places the legal market at a competitive disadvantage compared to illicit operators.