Maryland Lawmaker Seeks To Bring Gambling Addiction Education To High School Students

In what would be a first-in-the-nation mandate, a Maryland state senator has introduced a bill that would mandate teaching high school students about the dangers of problem gambling.

Sen. Bryan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) is quick to point out that this is not anti-gambling legislation he’s promoting; he simply wants to bring the potential pitfalls of gambling to the attention of impressionable minds.

“This is not against gambling, but studies have shown that people roughly between the ages of 18 and 25 to be at the highest risk of the population to become problem gamblers,” Simonaire told Sports Handle. “We have a program in place that deals with the dangers of potential addiction with alcohol and drugs, and so with the change in Maryland with gambling laws, I thought it would be a good idea to do the same with the potential of becoming addicted to gambling.”

The “change” Simonaire refers to is both the 2008 and 2012 ballot initiatives that legalized slots and table games, respectively, and the assumption that a regulatory framework for online sports betting will be established in short order, following Maryland voters’ approval of legal sports betting in the state by a 2-1 margin in in November 2020.

“I’d imagine by end of this legislative session we’re going to have something hammered out,” he said. “The session ends April 12, so theoretically this year we could have online sports betting.”

Prevention now instead of treatment later

Under Simoniare’s proposed legislation, gambling addiction would become part of the curriculum, to be taught at some point between the grade 9 and grade 12 years.

“As a policy, it’s trying to put in prevention now as opposed to treatment afterwards,” he said. “The Maryland Department of Education would be tasked to come up with the curriculum. It’s so important, especially with online gambling on its way. The access is even greater, and those who gamble online tend to spend more money. Additionally, today’s youth are so familiar with the online world, the potential of addiction is there. To me, it’s just like drinking alcohol. Most people can handle it just fine, but some have a problem with it.”

For Simonaire, the legislation has a bit of his personal history tacked on.

“I’ve personally seen some of my family members do fine with gambling,” he said. “But I’ve also seen — point in case, my father. My parents got divorced when I was young, and he moved out to Arizona, and I’d go out there in the summers to visit him and we’d drive to Las Vegas, and he would spend whatever and have a good time, and then we’d come back to Arizona. And then when they brought gambling into Arizona, the accessibility was much greater and he started gambling more and more and more and finally became addicted. He had over a million dollars in assets, and he died penniless. So I’ve seen both sides. The majority of people can handle it, but I’ve seen the devastation of those who can’t.”

Support in place

Simonaire has high hopes for the legislation, as he’s been able to drum up support of the bill with major stakeholders, including the Maryland Association of Boards of Education and the state’s school superintendent groups.

Furthermore, this is the second go-around for the bill; it passed the Senate 44-2 last year before the Maryland legislature adjourned early for the first time since the Civil War due to COVID-19.

“I’m hopeful it will pass,” Simonaire said. “And I hope it spreads across the nation to other state legislatures.”

As for what he thinks the curriculum should look like?

“It would show students what responsible gambling looks like, and here’s what it looks like when the warning signs are coming, and here’s what problem gambling looks like, and here’s where you can get help,” Simonaire said. “I just want to open their eyes to it so they have the knowledge and can act upon the knowledge if the need arises.”

And while Simonaire wants his fellow state legislators and the governor of Maryland to listen to what he has to say when it comes to kids and gambling, that’s about as far as he plans to go in the gambling advice world.

“I had Green Bay on Sunday, so you don’t want to talk to me,” he said.

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