Responsible Gaming Programs in Virginia Finding Favor Among Problem Gamblers

Posted on: June 24, 2024, 12:53h. 

Last updated on: June 24, 2024, 10:11h.

A top official working to strengthen responsible gaming programs in Virginia says the commonwealth’s many resources are resonating with players who say their gambling habits have spiraled out of control.

Virginia casino gambling responsible gaming
Gamblers labor over a craps table at Rivers Casino Portsmouth on Jan. 23, 2023. Virginia’s problem gambling experts say the state’s resources are resonating for gamblers seeking to limit or end their participation. (Image: The Virginian-Pilot)

Dr. Carolyn Hawley is the executive director of the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling. She also serves on the state’s Problem Gambling Treatment and Support Advisory Committee, which works with state lawmakers in the ongoing development of best practices for the prevention and treatment of problem gambling.

Hawley is additionally the director of the Virginia Partnership for Gaming and Health, a consortium of stakeholders committed to improving treatment recovery services for individuals who need support to curb their habits. The state’s foremost expert on problem gambling says the commonwealth’s enrollment rate for players seeking help has far outpaced the national average.

Enrollment Success

Since 2018, state lawmakers have authorized slot-like historical horse racing machines, as well as commercial casinos with slot machines, live dealer table games, and sports betting.

Appearing before a General Assembly joint subcommittee that’s studying whether to establish a state-run gaming commission, Hawley explained that the problem gaming centers she oversees have experienced a surge in calls in recent years.

Hawley said there’s been a nearly 1,000% increase in calls to the state’s problem gambling helpline — 1-888-532-3500 — since 2019. The people answering those calls, Hawley explained, have been proficient in assisting those in need with valuable resources.

Hawley, who holds a Master of Science in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of Wisconsin and a Ph.D. in Health Related Sciences and Rehabilitation Leadership from Virginia Commonwealth University, informed the committee that more than one in two callers end up getting treatment from one of the state’s resources. Problem gaming experts say such enrollment nationwide is below 10%.

What we’re doing here in Virginia is truly remarkable,” Hawley declared. “We’re becoming a model for other states to follow.”

Hawley detailed that the Virginia Partnership for Gaming & Health received 166 referrals in the first quarter of 2024.

The Virginia Council on Problem Gambling manages the state’s helpline and performs assessments to determine how to best help a caller. The Virginia Partnership for Gaming & Health fields referrals from the council and provides those individuals with therapeutic support.

Concerning Data

Though Hawley says the state’s problem gambling resources are working, some committee lawmakers expressed worry about the nearly 1,000% surge in gamblers seeking help. Virginia’s commercial gaming industry is relatively new, and three permanent casino resorts are still to open.

“It’s very sobering,” state Del. Paul Krizek (D-Alexandria) said of the uptick in self-help gambling calls.

Krizek is behind a push to prevent cities where local voters reject a casino ballot question from conducting subsequent referendums on the gaming issue. Krizek also opposes skill games, which have been powered down since last fall when the Virginia Supreme Court rescinded a lower court’s injunction that had allowed the games to remain in operation as a state case plays out.

Last month, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) vetoed legislation that would have created a regulatory environment for the slot-like games. Youngkin said he would only sign a skill game bill that provided consumer protections and came with buffer zones around churches and schools where the devices cannot operate.