How Problem Gambling Awareness Has–And Hasn’t–Improved

Written By Steve Ruddock on March 28, 2019

Gambling expansion is sweeping the nation.

Legislatures from New Hampshire to Kentucky to Oregon are contemplating everything from casinos to sports betting and online gambling. No less than 30 states have introduced legislation to expand their current gambling offerings in 2019.

But not everyone is happy with the current pace. And as states create new gambling laws or reopen previous gambling laws, there are calls for stronger responsible gaming policies, and problem gambling funding and treatment.

This is a great time to draw attention to this subject because March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month.

Problem gambling oversight that needs to be addressed

Up until the 2000s, the topics of responsible and problem gambling were, by and large, legislative afterthoughts. Actually, they were afterthoughts of afterthoughts.

The onus shouldn’t fall entirely on the states. There was scant research into gambling addiction. While some states implemented token policies and funding, others ignored the matter entirely. Even now, reliable, conclusive problem gambling research is hard to come by.

More recently, states have done a better job and not just when it comes to funding. Some states are doing their own research.

  • Massachusetts is a prime example of a state that is trying to minimize the harms of gambling through a combination of funding, research and first-of-its-kind pilot programs.
  • New Jersey is one of the oldest gambling states. But when it authorized online gambling in 2013, it decided to beef up its responsible gaming and problem gambling policies.

Unfortunately, problem gambling initiatives in most gambling states are still woefully underfunded. However, they don’t have to be. With all of the expansion efforts taking place, states have a golden opportunity to do things the right way or correct previous mistakes.

Thanks to Massachusetts and New Jersey as well as efforts overseas, the roadmap is there.

The Massachusetts model

Massachusetts is the runaway leader in the clubhouse when it comes to land-based responsible gambling policies.

Interestingly, the state benefitted from being late to the party. Massachusetts authorized casinos in 2011.

Mark Vander Linden, the director of research and problem gambling for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, noted at NCLGS 2016, explained that MA was able to learn from predecessors mistakes and successes. That allowed the state to maximize the benefits of gaming while diminishing the harms.

Whether you’re talking about the state’s years-long research into the social and economic impact of casino gambling, the constant stream of white papers and commissions to study expanded gambling, or the two pilot programs — PlayMyWay and GameSense — casinos are required to institute, Massachusetts is in a league of its own on the problem gambling front.

New Jersey takes the lead in the online arena

Massachusetts isn’t the only state that’s trying to move the needle when it comes to problem gambling research. New Jersey has established itself as the leader in online gambling responsible gaming policy.

When it legalized online gambling, the state commissioned a multi-year study to see what impact it would have on problem gambling in the state. The research grant went to Rutgers University, which has produced several papers on online and land-based gambling in the ensuing years.

A few examples include:

A revelation for problem gambling in Europe

Like the US, Europe neglected the social harms of gambling for many years. But that’s changing at a rapid pace across the continent.

In the last few years, several European countries have taken the bull by the horns. Advertisement crackdowns, strict limit caps on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs), and a wide variety of newly enacted responsible gaming policies are just some of the changes countries like the UK and Sweden have adopted.

UK advertising restrictions

Last summer, the UK Gambling Commission adopted new rules that expanded what kind of advertising was permissible. Prior to the new rules, the UKGC could only fine operators for misleading ads. The new rules allow the watchdog group to impose fines for ads that glamorize gambling or promote the games to children.

Suffice it to say, the new regulations are robust and are being enforced.

Since the new rules went into effect in October, operators have been slapped with some pretty hefty fines for a variety of offenses, including ads that would have previously gone unpunished.

The impact is already being felt, and in a rare case of self-regulation, operators saw the writing on the wall and reached a deal to restrict sports betting advertising voluntarily.

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FOBT caps

Long considered one of the most addicting forms of gambling (according to 2016 data from the UKGC, nearly 14 percent of FOBTs users are problem gamblers), the UK decided to drop the current FOBT wagering limit from £100 all the way down to £2.

The change went into effect in May 2018, but the new limits won’t go into effect until April.

Sweden is leading the way in online policies

I had the opportunity to speak with Rasmus Gripenfrid from Sustainable Interaction at ICE Totally Gaming in London in February. Gripenfrid explained the proactive approaches SI and the country of Sweden are taking to combat problem gambling.

SI provides a number of services:

  • GAMTEST, a self-test that players can take to determine their gambling behaviors and offers personalized feedback.
  • Online training programs within the field of responsible gambling.

The most interesting product is SI’s player tracking system. According to their website, the PTS system, “helps identify gambling patterns in players, and the level of risk (high risk, at-risk or low/no risk) they pose.”

SI’s PTS can be fully integrated into the operator’s customer relations and marketing systems where it can be used to send out customized messages, tips and calls-to-action, based on the player needs and the operator’s responsible gambling perspective.

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Steve Ruddock

Steve Ruddock is an avid poker player and a veteran member of the gaming media. His primary focus is on the regulated US online casino and poker markets. He writes for numerous online and print publications, including,, and USA Today.

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