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Kindbridge to form awareness committee focused on gambling in military

| By Jess Marquez
The Kindbridge Research Institute today (26 June) announced the formation of the Military Gambling Awareness Committee (MGAC), a new initiative dedicated to improving the development of gambling resources for the US military and its service members.

According to a release, the MGAC will “collaborate closely with the military and the US department of defence (DoD) to identify policy gaps through evidence-based approaches and offer guidance on potential adjustments”.

This will include advocating for “a more holistic public health approach” in the defence community, Kindbridge said. The MGAC will leverage the experience of its members by “enhancing awareness, educating stakeholders and promoting best practices”.

Mark Lucia, senior military research associate for Kindbridge and an eight-year veteran of the US army special forces, will chair the MGAC. He told iGB that the committee will establish relationships with officials and educate them about gambling topics.

“In the future we would love to see some kind of opportunity to work with the DoD,” he said. “That’s what it’s really all about, is providing best practices, providing available public health research on how they should be handling these things.

“Gambling is such a niche topic and there’s a lot people who just don’t know about it. We can be that central hub to say, ‘We’re here and we can get this to you guys.'”

Gambling-military experts will be on committee

To start, the MGAC will be composed of seven experts with both military and gambling experience. In addition to Lucia, the initial board will include:

  • Policy advisor: Brianne Doura-Schawohl, CEO of Doura-Schawohl Consulting LLC and military spouse;
  • Industry representative: Richard Taylor, senior manager for responsible gaming at BetMGM and US Marine Corps veteran;
  • Sports industry representative: Joe Solosky, managing director of sports betting at NASCAR and US Navy veteran;
  • Tech/security expert: Joseph Martin, CEO of Kinectify and US Marine Corps veteran;
  • Public affairs advisor: Caroline Ponseti, communications strategist at Invariant and former press secretary for US house committee on veterans’ affairs; and
  • Educational programme developer: David Yeager, intake specialist and gambling recovery coach at Kindbridge and US Army veteran.

Lucia said the diverse mix of members will do well to bridge the gap between the military and gambling worlds.

“By having people from across these different spaces with different expertise, it really opens up some doors to be able to have a really great voice on this,” he said. “We have an opportunity to provide some value and some stuff worth listening to.”

Doura-Schawohl told iGB that the military community hasn’t traditionally been included in the RG space. The MGAC will aim to change that.

“We’re bringing together a unique group of individuals who I believe are perfectly placed to take this issue on, head on,” she said.

Gambling in the military a touchy subject

Gambling has long been a sore subject in the US military. There are few resources for service members struggling with problem gambling specifically, unlike drug or alcohol addiction.

This is further complicated by the fact that service members can gamble on US military bases abroad.

The DoD operates more than 3,100 slots on US bases in at least 12 countries, according to a 2017 report from the government accountability office (GAO). The exact revenue from these machines is unknown but is estimated to be at least $100m per year.

Slots were banned from domestic bases in 1951 and from international bases in the early 1970s. They started to return on overseas bases in the 1980s and have remained since. Now, the revenue from them is precious in that it funds other programmes and recreational activities.

Gambling screening introduced in 2019

After the GAO report was submitted, several changes were proposed. One that was successfully implemented was the inclusion of gambling harm questions in annual health screenings. That change was featured in the FY 2019 National Defense Authorisation Act (NDAA).

Doura-Schawohl was involved in bringing this change, but said more needs to be done to address the problem.

“Policy manuals do not incorporate gambling, nor is treatment readily accessible,” she said. “Nor are we providing training or educational materials.”

She noted that a report from congress about gambling harm in the military was due in March but has yet to be filed.

In a 2022 report, the DoD said 0.06% of active-duty members and 0.13% or reservists were positive for gambling disorders in the annual screening. That was compared to 1.6% and 1.7% in periodic health surveys.

The US National Council on Problem Gambling has posited that some 56,000 service members meet the criteria for gambling disorder. The council has also said that veterans are two to three times more likely to develop a gambling problem than civilians.

Awareness around issue starting to grow

The formation of the MGAC represents a big step forward in creating awareness for an issue that is secretive even in the military itself.

Lucia noted that he wasn’t even aware that there were slots on bases until the end of his service. He personally did not need help for a disorder, but expressed sympathy for those who do. He lamented that he “would have no idea where to go” if he would have needed help.

In one research exercise, he analysed how well the American Gaming Association’s suggested RG policies were being implemented in each state. Comparing those rankings to the DoD, the DoD ranked last.

“The policy could use a brush-up just to stay in line with what’s going on in the industry,” he said, noting the recent emergence of online sports betting and igaming.

Doura-Schawohl echoed that sentiment. She argued that online wagering is a big issue among service members stationed in US states with legal markets.

Tonko amendment would have banned on-base slots

One official who is no stranger to advocating for stricter gambling policy is New York’s Representative Paul Tonko.

Tonko previously filed legislation for a total ban on sports betting advertising. Earlier this month he filed an amendment to the FY2025 version of the NDAA that would ban on-base slots.

In a statement to Military.com, Tonko said that he hoped the amendment “would lessen the risk of our service members developing a gambling addiction”.

The house version of the NDAA passed on 14 June but sources tell iGB that Tonko’s amendment was not included.

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