A federal fund for problem gambling has been introduced by two US legislators. US Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and US Representative Andrea Salinas of Oregon proposed the Gambling Addiction Recovery, Investment, and Treatment Act (GRIT).
While nobody seems to be complaining about additional funds for problem gambling, there appear to be disagreements on where the money should come from.
Pennsylvania is one of the most robust gambling states, with both legal sports betting and online casinos. Should the GRIT Act pass, how would it affect responsible gambling programs in Pennsylvania?
What is the GRIT Act?
The GRIT Act is a piece of legislation that would allocate more funds to problem gambling at a federal level. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), it’s the first-ever federal funding stream dedicated to preventing, treating and researching responsible gambling and addiction in the US.
In a press release emailed to PlayPennsylvania, key provisions of the GRIT Act include:
- Allocating 50% of the current federal sports excise tax revenue for gambling addiction treatment and research administered by the US Department of Health and Human Services
- Health and Human Services distribution of 75% to states for prevention and treatment through the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Block Grant program and direct the remaining 25% to the National Institute of Drug Abuse for research grants into gambling addiction
- Authorizing spending for 10 years and mandating a report to Congress on the program’s effectiveness within three years of passage
The press release stated that problem gambling affects approximately seven million Americans. The annual social cost of problem gambling is around $7 billion.
Susan Sheridan Tucker, President of the NCPG Board of Directors, said in the release:
“The GRIT Act reflects a pivotal step towards long-overdue support for those grappling with gambling addiction. We commend Senator Blumenthal and Representative Salinas for their dedication to addressing the burgeoning public health crisis of gambling addiction. The National Council on Problem Gambling stands in full support of this legislation, recognizing its potential to make a lasting difference in the lives of individuals and families across the nation.”
How would the GRIT Act affect Pennsylvania gambling?
Not everyone is on board with the GRIT Act. The American Gambling Association (AGA) has publicly opposed the legislation because it is in conflict with the excise tax. AGA Senior Vice President of Government Relations, Chris Cylke, said to SBC Americas:
“The AGA opposes the GRIT Act and will continue to educate Congress about why enacting bipartisan legislation to repeal the excise tax on legal sports betting operators is necessary to ensure we can effectively migrate Americans into the protections of the regulated market.”
The GRIT Act would keep the excise tax alive forever, which the AGA is attempting to eliminate. The excise tax was imposed in 1951 to discourage illegal forms of sports betting. It is a 0.025% tax straight from the handle produced.
Pennsylvania already addresses problem gambling needs through taxes funded by the gaming itself. The money is distributed in counties throughout the state to help encourage responsible gambling in Pennsylvania. The state also has three departments that prevent or treat problem gambling:
- PGCB Office of Compulsive and Problem Gambling website
- Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania website
- Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) website
While those organizations would clearly benefit from the GRIT Act, there still could be confusion and issues stemming from multiple funds from different levels of legislation dealing with problem gambling.
Should the GRIT Act pass, the excise tax would also still be intact for the long haul. This would cause operators to lose even more money.
Mostly everyone applauds the intentions of the GRIT Act, but how the money is funded has become controversial in recent weeks.