NCPG addresses sports betting legalization

The National Council on Problem Gambling Board of Directors approved a resolution this week, recommending stakeholders in the push to expand legal sports betting in the United States recognize the potential impact on gambling addiction and the health of athletes.

The NCPG is neutral on whether sports betting should be legalized, but believes expansion will likely increase participation and gambling problems, unless steps are taken to minimize the harm.

Among several ideas, the NCPG recommends that legislators and regulators ensure that any expansion of sports gambling includes dedicated funds to prevent and treat gambling addiction. It recommends that sports leagues and teams establish addiction prevention and education programs for youth athletes, beginning prior to high school and continuing through college and professional sports.

The NCPG also asks media outlets that publicize betting lines and odds to include information about the National Problem Gambling Helpline Network (800-522-477) as a public service.

"Nothing is stopping these stakeholders from going ahead and taking these steps now," NCPG executive director Keith Whyte said Tuesday during a webinar expanding on the resolution.

"Right now companies who operate legal sports books and states who regulate them have the opportunity to demonstrate they have in place comprehensive and innovative responsible gaming programs tailored to sports bettors."

State-sponsored sports betting is currently legal in only a handful of states, with only Nevada being allowed to offer wagering on single games or events. There is momentum at the federal and state levels to lift or amend the federal prohibition on sports betting. Multiple federal sports betting bills have been introduced, and the American Gaming Association is forming a lobbying coalition with the purpose of getting legislation to President Donald Trump at some point during his administration.

On Wednesday, West Virginia became the sixth state, along with Maryland, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, to introduce sports betting legislation in 2017. In addition, New Jersey has been fighting to bring legal sports betting to its ailing race tracks and casinos for several years. Its latest attempt is being weighed by the Supreme Court.

Gambling addiction peaked at about 2.7 percent in the late 1990s and early 2000s, according to the NCPG. It has been on the decline ever since, even as gambling has expanded across the nation, and has now settled around 2 percent. At state-run problem gambling hotlines, calls from sports bettors are rare. In 2014, less than 1 percent of callers to Nevada's gambling hotline identified sports betting at their most problematic form of gambling.