20TH APR 2017 | WRITTEN BY: CHRIS SIEROTY
A bill increasing fees on slots and table games in Maryland to pay for problem gambling programs was approved in the Assembly only to have the Senate pass an amended bill without the increases shortly before the legislature adjourned for the year.
Delegate Nick Mosby said the General Assembly passed his problem gambling bill 138-1, with two members absent, but House Bill 1227 was stripped of the fee increases “within the last couple of hours of the session.”
“I am really disappointed,” Mosby told GamblingCompliance.
“I will bring the bill back in January,” Mosby said. “This time I will work with my Senate colleagues to get it done.”
Maryland’s casino operators already make annual payments to the state’s Problem Gambling Fund based on the number of gaming machines and table games they operate.
HB 1227, also known as the Problem Gambling Funding and Treatment Act of 2017, would have increased the annual fee for each video lottery terminal (VLT) from $425 to $500, while the annual fee for table games would have increased from $500 to $700.
Mosby estimated HB 1227 would have added about $1m annually to the state’s Problem Gambling Fund.
“When it comes to problem gambling there is a huge need in Maryland,” Mosby, a Democrat from Baltimore, said.
Mosby estimated that 150,000 people in Maryland had some form of a gambling problem.
According to the most recent figures published by the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine’s Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling, 67 percent of callers to their helpline were male, while 33 percent were female.
An overwhelming majority — 72 percent — reported casino-based gambling as the primary problem. Of those seeking help, 27 percent cited slot machines and 73 percent reported other casino games as being most problematic.
Other problems included lottery games (8 percent), non casino card games (3 percent) and horseracing (3 percent).
States with legalized casino gaming adopt varying approaches when it comes to allocating moneys to address problem gambling.
Typically, states either allocate a portion of overall tax revenues or casino admission fees to problem gambling, or instead levy fixed amounts on casino operators.
In addition to state statutory requirements, the American Gaming Association (AGA) has issued a Code of Conduct for Responsible Gaming, which deals with employee assistance and training, alcohol service and casino gambling advertising and marketing, among other things.
In the past fiscal year, Maryland dedicated about $4m to problem gambling. That figure will increase next fiscal year with the opening in December of MGM National Harbor.
But the amount is still less than half of 1 percent of the casinos’ annual revenues.
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said funding on a state level should equal 1 percent of total gaming revenue — encompassing lottery, as well as casinos and other forms of gambling.
A comprehensive problem gambling program should provide treatment, prevention, research and education, Whyte said.
The Senate approved an amended version of HB 1227 45-0, with two members absent.
Although the proposed fee increases were removed from the final version, the final bill simply states the intent of lawmakers for the Problem Gambling Fund to primarily provide financial support for treatment and prevention programs, including in- and outpatient treatments and educational services.
Maryland’s 90-day legislative session ended shortly before midnight on April 10.
Mosby said his bill was all about being “proactive and responsible” when it comes to protecting Maryland’s residents.
He said the extra $1m was not enough, given the significant growth of casino gaming industry in the state.
A record revenue month for MGM National Harbor helped post the strongest month yet for all six of Maryland’s casinos, which brought in $141.2m in revenue in March, according to revenue figures released by Maryland Lottery and Gaming.
The new record beats the previous high of $133.5m, set in December when MGM debuted, the agency said.
“It has become a billion dollar industry in Maryland,” Mosby said.