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Sports betting has spread to 38 states and Washington, D.C., over the past five years. In that time, states have also seen massive increases in calls to gambling addiction hotlines. Plus, more news to use from around the country in this week's State and Local Roundup.
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This weekend is the Super Bowl, a spectacle that reveals a lot about choices state governments have made in recent years about sports betting.
Experts expect Americans to bet a record $23 billion on Sunday’s game. States have fueled the massive uptick in online and in-person wagering on sporting contests, even though they have received relatively modest revenue increases and have seen dramatic increases in reports of people struggling with gambling addiction.
The showdown between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday takes place in Las Vegas, a city that the National Football League and other professional sports leagues shunned for decades because of its famous ties to gambling, and sports betting in particular
League commissioners long worried that gambling on games could undermine the integrity of their sports, which would, in turn, drive away fans. And, of course, betting had led to major scandals that people talk about decades later, from the 1919 Black Sox to Pete Rose.
That all changed when the Supreme Court sided with New Jersey as it challenged Nevada’s exclusive legal right to allow sports gambling, which Congress put in place in 1992. Suddenly, any state could allow sports betting, and almost all of them jumped at the chance. Lobbyists from gaming companies like DraftKings and FanDuel swarmed state capitols to legalize the new form of gaming and to secure favorable conditions. Today, 38 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico all allow people to bet on the Super Bowl and other sports events, and several of the remaining states are considering similar moves. (Two notable holdouts, though, are California and Missouri, the home states of the Super Bowl teams.)
The speed of the about-face was remarkable. As Religion News Service points out, it took nearly 60 years for 40 states to adopt government-run lotteries, following New Hampshire’s decision to set one up in 1964. It only took five years for sports betting to spread that far.
One reason for the enthusiasm: States could collect taxes from the new services. Last year, states took in $2.1 billion from sports betting, up from $1.5 billion in 2022. While that is certainly significant, it is also a relatively small piece of the revenue picture for operations as big as state governments. The $2.1 billion in nationwide sports betting taxes from 2023 is less than Idaho received in sales taxes in its last fiscal year. What’s more, the vast majority of new gaming revenues have been concentrated in a few states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
On the other hand, the impact on people reporting problems with gambling addiction have been widespread. Advocates estimate that nearly 7 million Americans experience gambling addiction.
Calls to Kentucky’s gambling addiction hotline have tripled since the state first allowed sports bets in September. Ohio saw a 55% jump in its first year of sports betting. In Connecticut, calls nearly doubled.
The legal changes came at the same time that technological advances made it possible for people to make a bet at any time from nearly anywhere using their phones. That lowers the barriers for people who experience gambling addiction, Diana Goode, the head of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling told Marketplace recently.
“In order to gamble you had to put clothes on,” said Goode. “You had to get up, you had to go out, and now you don’t.”
Technology is also used to keep people hooked once they place their bets. Using massive data mining operations and artificial intelligence, gaming companies can tailor their offerings to keep customers wagering on anything from the outcome of a current drive in an NFL game to the winner of an obscure collegiate tennis match, 60 Minutes reported.
Young men are the most likely to gamble and the most likely to experience problems with gambling addiction.
Even before sports betting became legal in North Carolina, for example, surveys found that a majority of college students had gambled in the prior year. Advocates worry that the age restrictions in the new law, which limits gambling to people 21 or older, won’t be enough to prevent addiction among younger residents.
“They’re more prone to take risks than older adults. They may also be less aware of the concept that, regardless of if there’s skill involved, it’s still gambling,” Amanda Winters, the head of state’s Problem Gambling Program, told The (Raleigh) News & Observer. “You can never out-skill chance.”
Advocates who want to prevent gambling addiction have called for many changes in state sports betting laws. Those include limits on promotions like free bets that gaming companies use to lure new users; prohibiting the use of credit cards for gambling; making state-run support for people affected by a gambling problem more widely available and easier to access, and, of course, more funding for those treatment services.
But state regulators were caught flat-footed by the surge in responsibilities that they already have been given, often allowing practices that lawmakers specifically outlawed, according to a 2022 investigation by The New York Times.
Other advocates are pushing for more federal involvement in treating gambling addiction. In Congress, two lawmakers introduced legislation in January to redirect federal tax revenues on sports wagering to fund treatment for gambling addiction.
Keith Whyte, the head of the National Council on Problem Gambling told Marketplace that a state-by-state approach to treating gambling addiction is outdated.
“Just as we don’t look at cancer, or diabetes, or substance abuse state-by-state, we really need to recognize that gambling too is something that you have to look at on a national basis,” he said.
It’s unclear when or whether other states will join the sports betting frenzy. Georgia lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment to allow sports betting there, even though a similar effort failed last year. Other states face headwinds because of relations with Native American tribes, opposition from religious conservatives or high legal hurdles: Alabama, Alaska, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah.
But even in places like Missouri, where sports betting is not legal, residents often find a way to wager anyway. More than 81,000 people from Missouri had accounts and were using betting apps, according to GeoComply, a geolocation company. At one highway interchange near the Kansas-Missouri border, The Kansas City Beacon reported, GeoComply recorded 24,000 transactions during the Chiefs playoff run, as Missouri residents pulled over to the side of the road to make their bets.
Gambling has a powerful allure and offers people something intoxicating that drugs or alcohol cannot provide, Scott Anderson, a problem gambling specialist in the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services in Ohio, told The New York Times.
“Gambling is the only mood-altering thing that has hope involved,” he said. “I’m not going to sit in the crack house and hope I can catch up on my child support.”
Keep reading as there’s more news to use below, and if you don’t already and would prefer to get this roundup in your inbox, you can subscribe to this newsletter here. We’ll see you next week.
News to Use
Trends, Common Challenges, Cool Ideas, FYIs and Notable Events
- RAIL SAFETY: A year after East Palestine derailment, rail industry blocks new safety rules. Norfolk Southern’s top executive has promised change since the train accident a year ago. But in the nation’s capital, company representatives often have sounded a more defiant note, joining some of the nation’s leading freight railroads in a bid to weaken newly proposed safety legislation, reports The Washington Post. The target of the lobbying is a bipartisan proposal that aims to toughen rail inspections, improve derailment-detection technology and ensure greater safeguards for hazardous materials. Over the past year, the nation’s five largest rail operators together spent roughly $17 million to lobby lawmakers, while donating generously to key members of Congress who oversee transportation issues, according to federal records. In doing so, rail industry lobbyists also fought the Biden administration on even the most basic upgrades, from efforts to ensure that engineers have special breathing equipment onboard to new rules that would require miles-long trains to be staffed with more than one person.
- GUNS: Hawaii top court upholds gun laws, criticizes U.S. Supreme Court. The Hawaii Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the state's laws that generally prohibit carrying a firearm in public without a license—and in the process criticized the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court's rulings that have expanded gun rights. In a unanimous 5-0 decision, the court, comprising three appointees of Democratic governors and two Republican-appointed judges, reversed a lower-court judge's decision dismissing charges against an individual arrested for trespassing on someone's property with an unregistered pistol. In interpreting a provision of the state's constitution nearly identical to the U.S. Constitution—one that reads, "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”—the court ruled that the right was "militia-centric." "Those words do not support a right to possess lethal weapons in public for possible self-defense," the decision read.
- CHILD CARE: State legislatures turn to tax credits to ease child care shortage. Several proposals to address child care shortages are making the rounds in state legislatures across the country. In Nebraska, a bill would implement a program similar to one in Kentucky that covers the costs of child care for child care workers. In Missouri, two proposals moved forward on Tuesday, a package of tax credits meant to expand child care options and a separate property tax exemption for child care providers. Specifically, the former bill would offer three types of credits: for taxpayers who donate to support child care centers, for employers who make investments in child care needs for their employees and for child care providers. Meanwhile, Utah is expected to lose an estimated $400 million in federal funds for child care services after COVID-19 federal subsidies end. To address a looming child care crisis, the legislature is considering a bill to take empty space in state-owned office buildings and retrofit them for child care facilities for state employees and other Utahns. It would start as a pilot project with six sites in Salt Lake County. The bill would also include options for public-private partnerships, in which employers could sponsor facilities for their employees.
- NATURAL DISASTERS: Maui police report reveals lessons learned from fire. An internal probe of the Maui Police Department’s response to the Aug. 8 wildfires highlighted the many challenges officers faced to save lives while revealing an understaffed force that dealt with communication, equipment and other problems. The department this week released a 98-page preliminary after-action report that provided a detailed account of its response and 32 ways to improve for future emergencies. For the first time, the location of where the victims were found was made public. A large number of victims died along a single street—a stark indication of the ferocity of the blaze that swept through the historic island town, killing 100 people. The recommendations included issuing optional radio earpieces to all officers, creating a procedure for call signs for officers who self-deploy and equipping every supervisory police vehicle with a breaching kit for removing debris such as a downed tree from roadways.
- PUBLIC SAFETY: Newsom to send 120 police officers to fight crime in Oakland. The California governor announced Tuesday that he’s sending 120 highway patrol officers to Oakland under a new state law enforcement campaign targeting an uptick in violent crime and theft. Newsom’s decision comes amid a barrage of recent headlines on the city’s crime rates, business closures, and campaigns to oust the city’s mayor and Alameda County’s chief prosecutor from office. Violent crime increased 21% in 2023 from the year before, according to the Oakland Police Department’s end-of-year crime report. Homicides topped 100 for the fourth consecutive year. Robberies grew by 38% and burglaries by 23%. Motor vehicle theft surged 45% in 2023 from the prior year. The number of people experiencing homelessness in Oakland also increased by nearly 1,000 from 2019 to 2022, to a total of 5,055 individuals sleeping in tents, cars, RVs, abandoned buildings or on the streets.
- FINANCE: Connecticut to erase $1 billion in medical debt. Gov. Ned Lamont announced late last week that the state will erase $1 billion in medical debt for eligible residents. The relief, which would help an estimated 250,000 residents, will come from a $6.5 million fund from the COVID-era American Rescue Plan Act that sought to cancel medical debt. The state will work with a nonprofit that buys medical debt at a reduced rate to eliminate the debt by June. Connecticut residents at up to 400% of the federal poverty level, or $156,000 for a family of four, will be eligible, as well as those whose medical debt is over 5% of their income. The program will prioritize single parents, according to the report. While a few cities have canceled medical debt, Connecticut will be the first state to do so. Medical debt is the number one source of debt, according to the Consumer Finance Protection Board, affecting 1 in 5 U.S. households.
- TRAFFIC SAFETY: Washington, D.C., passed a bill to crack down on speeding. Under legislation passed by the D.C. Council on Tuesday, the city would create a point system to track and penalize drivers who repeatedly commit traffic violations. The bill would also give the city stronger recourse against repeat drunken-driving offenders and grant the D.C. attorney general the power to sue drivers with multiple violations regardless of where they live. Many of the city’s unpaid traffic tickets are issued to Virginia and Maryland drivers. The $77 million traffic safety package would also allow the city to install “speed governors,” which restrict a vehicle’s speed, on the cars of drivers who commit serious violations. It would require the Department of Motor Vehicles to create a safe-driving class that would allow participants to have up to $500 in fines waived annually, and it would close loopholes that allow drunk drivers to retain licenses. The bill awaits mayoral and congressional approval.
- HEALTH CARE: South warms to expanded health benefits. House speakers in three Republican-controlled states—Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi—have said in recent weeks that they need to consider covering more people through their state-run health insurance programs, reports Politico. Their comments represent a stark departure from more than a decade of lawmakers in conservative statehouses arguing vehemently against expanding Medicaid or similar benefits—many of them because of a reflexive revulsion to Obamacare. The shift is partly a byproduct of a historic realignment that has seen more working-class voters gravitate to the GOP, largely driven by an affinity for the populist rhetoric of Donald Trump. The changing attitudes could reshape health care in the South by allowing nearly half a million uninsured people to obtain coverage, improving the finances of some of the nation’s most beleaguered hospitals and helping communities with high rates of chronic disease, maternal mortality and avoidable deaths.
- ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: California plans to use AI to answer tax questions. A constant hum fills the air at California’s tax agency this time of year—phones ring and keyboards clack as hundreds of thousands of Californians and businesses seek tax guidance. Call volume quadruples to up to 10,000 a day; average wait times soar from four minutes to 20. So later this year—for next tax season—California’s 3,696-person Department of Tax and Fee Administration plans to use generative artificial intelligence to advise its approximately 375 call center agents on state tax code. The AI will then inform what they pass on to California business owners asking for tax guidance. The tax advice AI proposal is one of five proofs of concept California has launched to explore how state agencies can use generative AI, says California Department of Technology director and state chief information officer Liana Bailey-Crimmins. Caltrans has two projects to explore if generative AI can reduce traffic congestion and fatal accidents, and the state’s Health and Human Services Agency has two trials underway to explore if generative AI can assist in health care facility inspections and make it easier for people to understand and attain public benefits.
- ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Missouri lawmaker hopes to shield cryptocurrency mining from state and local regulation. Mining cryptocurrency requires enormous amounts of computing power and electricity, both to keep the digital calculations going and to cool the machines doing the work. A state legislator wants to make it easier for entrepreneurs to set up their mines in Missouri, proposing legislation that prevents local governments from limiting the locations for mining operations or imposing noise restrictions tighter than those for other industries. The protections are needed to foster an industry that would bring jobs and money to the Missouri economy, according to state Rep. Phil Christofanelli, who filed the bill.
- MANAGEMENT: Maryland governor unveils state plan. Nearly 13 months into his administration, Gov. Wes Moore unveiled a paper Thursday that he said will serve as a guiding set of principles for his administration and a way to judge how he is measuring up to his own goals. The 40-page document known as the State Plan sets out several lofty goals, including the elimination of childhood poverty; creating an equitable, robust, and competitive economy; connecting Marylanders to jobs; creating safer communities; making Maryland a leader in clean energy and the greenest state in the country; and making Maryland a state that serves. Last year Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz rolled out a similar effort. The One Minnesota Plan establishes measurable goals in 15 areas including child and family well-being, public safety, housing stability and customer experience.
Picture of the Week
As the top elected official of Harris County, the most populous in Texas, Lina Hidalgo surprised many people last summer when she announced that she had checked herself into a residential mental health clinic for serious depression. She had been struggling privately for years, even as she stepped forward assertively to preside over Houston’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and help residents throughout the county deal with flooding and a devastating winter freeze. Since her return from nearly two months of treatment at the clinic, reports The New York Times, Hidalgo has spoken openly and often about her mental health, making her struggles an increasingly central part of her political identity. Hidalgo, 32, has added her name to a growing list of politicians—most of them Democrats—who have chosen to be public about their mental health. But the approach remains politically risky. And while the number of politicians who are willing to discuss their mental health treatment has grown, it remains small.
Government in Numbers
The percentage of American students driving or being driven to school in a private vehicle, according to an analysis by The Washington Post of the recently revamped National Household Travel Survey. It marks the first time on record that most Americans were transported by private transportation and not the iconic yellow school bus. The coronavirus pandemic accelerated a shift long in the making, said Dave Cowan with the nonprofit Safe Routes Partnership. Fifty years ago, feet and pedals dominated the school transportation scene, but that depended on schools being built in the heart of dense neighborhoods. “We’ve moved our schools to where land is less expensive and more expansive, but less accessible to those walking and bicycling,” Cowan said. What’s more, drivers have been some of the most in-demand workers in the entire country. To papier-mâché over the driver shortfall, schools are slashing bus service, changing hours, canceling days and even paying parents to drive their own offspring.