Colorado’s responsible gambling agencies and advocates have long bemoaned a lack of funding.
That could soon change.
State House Bill 22-1402, introduced in late April by House Speaker Alec Garnett, is currently working its way through the Colorado legislature.
The bill was passed in the House earlier this week. On Thursday night, it received a passing vote in the Senate as well.
However, the Senate passed an amended version on the third reading. And the most notable of those amendments was changing the funding frequency for the bill’s grant program to “annually” from “continuously.”
The amended measure now is set to head back to the House for approval.
Nearly $3 million in grants would be allocated
The 21-page bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Chris Hansen and also has the backing of the Colorado Gaming Association, a casino industry group. It would set up an annual allocation of nearly $3 million in grants to fund problem gambling research and treatment.
Currently, the funding for Colorado responsible gambling — which increased only marginally in 2019 with voter approval of legalized sports betting — still only amounts to approximately $130,000 annually.
That budget was one of several responsible gaming elements examined by the Colorado Gambling Compliance in a national survey in 2021.
To cut to the chase, Colorado graded out dead last among U.S. states in that survey.
Reports such as those haven’t sat well with Garnett. And he has vowed to help remedy the situation before he retires after the current legislative session.
House Bill 22-1402 is his attempt at doing just that.
Garnett has been unavailable to discuss the bill directly with PlayColorado. But the state legislature’s website contains a thorough summary.
“Section 1 creates the responsible gaming grant program in the department of revenue to promote responsible gaming in the state,” the summary begins.
“The Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission, in collaboration with the behavioral health administration, is required to administer the grant program and award grants to eligible applicants from money in the responsible gaming grant program cash fund, which is also created in the bill. An ‘eligible applicant’ means an agency of the state government, a local government, or, with certain exceptions, a nonprofit organization.”
Trio of revenue streams would be tapped
To better fund qualified responsible gambling initiatives, the bill singles out three revenue sources:
- $2.5 million from Colorado’s share of the limited gaming fund
- Undistributed money from the state’s Hold Harmless Fund
- $200,000 from the Colorado Lottery’s responsible gaming fund
In total, it would amount to nearly $3 million annually.
Currently, according to Problem Gambling Coalition of Colorado President Peggy Brown, $100,000 or so per year is needed to cover the costs of the 24/7 helpline (800-522-4700).
The helpline is staffed by a contingent of licensed, PGCC-contracted therapists.
However, more certified gambling addiction therapists and counselors are needed with the near-50-percent uptick in helpline calls from 2018-21 alone.
In all, the measure’s grants will ideally fund additional organizations and programs able to actively assist problem gamblers.
“This is the foundation that the legislature needs in order to get the resources in place to make sure we can tackle any of the issues that will come up in the future around problem gaming,” Garnett told The Colorado Sun in an article published Wednesday. “I think this is a very good start.”
Free bet, exclusion list legislation also included
The bill also contains other provisions to help the state combat gambling addiction.
One would reduce sportsbooks’ “free bet” percentage. Those free bets — used to woo new customers — can be deducted from the operator’s reported total handle, which is used to determine their state tax liability.
Another would make it easier for individuals with gambling issues to add their own names to online and/or in-person “exclusion lists.”
In turn, those on the list ideally would find it easier to find and receive appropriate treatment.
All would be welcome with Colorado’s monthly sports betting handle regularly ranking among the top six nationally.
In addition, retail casino traffic has increased with the COVID-19 pandemic further receding. And online casino gaming could be on the horizon in the Centennial State.
At last, the start is now charting a path to effective and successful responsible gambling.
“What we need is the (responsible gaming) resources to be put in place, and some of the rules to be promulgated around the best practices in existence now,” Garnett told the Sun. “Then we’ll be in position to adjust in the future.”