A Virginia gambling bill seeking to establish a problem gaming center with an array of treatment programs and resources has been signed into law by the state’s Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
Senate Bill 836, legislation to create the state’s Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Advisory Committee, was introduced in December by state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania). The goal of the statute, Reeves’ office says, is to address and provide resources for those who have become inflicted with gambling disorders.
The advisory committee will also work to curb potential gambling problems before they escalate by better informing the public about the potential risks associated with the state’s expanding gaming industry.
SB 836 was pushed through the House of Delegates by Del. Paul Krizek (D-Mount Vernon). The bipartisan legislation gained unanimous support in each chamber of the Virginia General Assembly before being sent to Youngkin’s desk.
I greatly appreciate Gov. Youngkin’s support in this endeavor,” Reeves said in prepared remarks. “As a father, it pains me to see how our youth have been affected by gambling and all the ills that come with it.”
Virginia lawmakers long opposed gaming expansion efforts until the General Assembly in 2020 agreed to allow certain cities to consider casino projects in order to spur economic growth. The 2020 gaming bill was signed by then-Gov. Ralph Northam (D).
More Gambling, More Gambling Problems
Four casinos in Virginia are in the works or have already opened. Along with the casinos in Norfolk, Portsmouth, Bristol, and Danville, and a fifth possible in Richmond, Virginia lawmakers in 2018 legalized pari-mutuel wagering on historical horse racing (HHR) machines.
The HHR bill was part of an effort by Chicago-based gaming firm Revolutionary Racing to purchase the shuttered Colonial Downs Racetrack. Revolutionary said it would purchase the track and bring back live horse racing, but only if the state allowed the company to operate HHR terminals at the racetrack. The 2018 HHR bill additionally legalized such gaming at certain off-track wagering facilities.
Brick-and-mortar casinos and pari-mutuel betting on horse races previously run aren’t the only new forms of gaming to be legalized in recent years, as Virginia today is also home to both in-person and online sports betting. Gambling on sports was included in the state’s 2020 gaming package.
The ease of access to online sportsbooks, problem gambling officials say, has resulted in a spike in problem gambling rates among younger people.
The 2021 Virginia Youth Study facilitated by the state’s Department of Health in collaboration with the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, found that nearly a quarter of high school students in Virginia reported gambling in some fashion within the past 12 months. Nearly two-thirds of Virginians aged 18-25 reported gambling within the past 30 days.
Virginia has had a problem gambling hotline in operation since casinos, HHR machines, and sports betting commenced in the commonwealth.
Officials with the Virginia Problem Gambling Hotline — 1-888-532-3500 — say their phones have been ringing more than ever. The hotline is managed by the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling.
Following Youngkin’s signature, Reeves’ bill becomes effective July 1, 2023. That gives state officials adequate time to establish and determine the programs and resources that will be offered by the Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Advisory Committee.
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