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New Study Finds MA Casinos Haven’t Increased Problem Gambling Prevalence

Written By J.R. Duren | Updated:
Shawn Harnish Places Sports Bet At Encore Boston Harbor Casino

If you think that the addition of three casinos in Massachusetts sent the state’s problem gambling rates sky-high, you’d be wrong.

That’s according to a new study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which found that there were no major changes in problem and at-risk gambling rates since casinos opened nine years ago. The University of Massachusetts Amherst noted in a press release:

“The prevalence of problem and at-risk gambling has not significantly changed since casinos were introduced in Massachusetts beginning in 2015, according to the first statewide population survey that compares gambling behavior and attitudes before and after the opening of three casinos in the commonwealth.”

The study is based on a comparison of two surveys: one done from 2013 to 2014 and the other from 2021 to 2022. Amherst’s Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) research team conducted the study.

Massachusetts problem and at-risk gambling rates changed slightly

In general, the assumption is that problem and at-risk gambling rates will increase when a state introduces casino gaming or sports betting.

While the jury is still out on whether legalizing sports betting increases problem gambling rates, the data seems to suggest that adding casinos may not be as dangerous as first thought…in Massachusetts, at least.

Amherst’s study found that the percentage of problem gamblers fell in the Bay State from 2% in 2013 to 1.4% in 2021. At-risk gamblers rose from 8.4% in 2013 to 8.5% in 2021.

Additionally, the study found that Massachusetts residents are gambling at lower rates than they were when casinos first launched. Gambling rates hit 73.1% before casinos launched and 60.2% in 2021. The drop-off was likely due to COVID-19 restrictions, the study noted.

Responsible gambling programs and CT may have kept problem gambling at bay

Of course, the big question is why problem and at-risk gambling rates didn’t see long-term spikes in Massachusetts after casinos were introduced.

Amherst Research Professor Rachel Volberg said the answer lies in two areas: Connecticut casinos and responsible gaming programs.

Exposure to Connecticut casinos set baseline problem gambling rates

Volberg said that researchers hypothesized that problem and at-risk gambling rates didn’t increase because Massachusetts residents were already exposed to casino gaming in Connecticut.

The results of the research confirmed that hypothesis, Volberg said. Connecticut accounted for the biggest chunk of out-of-state gambling. Around 21.5% of the state’s gamblers went to Connecticut for casino gaming, according to the pre-casino survey.

That rate dropped by more than half in the most recent survey, meaning the increase in in-state gambling didn’t boost problem gambling rates.

“We hypothesized that because of the clear exposure to casinos in Connecticut, we might not see the increase in problem gambling that often happens in the wake of the introduction of a new form of gambling,” Volberg said. “And it was nice to see our hypothesis confirmed.”

In-state responsible gaming resources may have helped, but resource awareness has declined

Another factor in the seemingly negligible impact of casinos on Massachusetts’ problem gambling rates is the state’s responsible gaming initiatives, Volberg said.

Massachusetts has a voluntary self-exclusion program that allows gamblers to ban themselves from casino gaming and/or sports betting for one to five years or their lifetime.

Additionally, programs like GameSense and PlayMyWay intend to help bettors gamble responsibly.

It’s important to note, though, that the study didn’t provide any hard data about how effective GameSense, PlayMyWay, and self-exclusion have been.

The study found that people are less aware of those programs now than before casinos launched despite the state spending millions on the programs.

“Given the level of funding in Massachusetts for problem gambling services…it is unclear why awareness of the availability of services for those experiencing gambling problems in Massachusetts was lower in 2021 compared to 2013,” the study said.

Photo by AP Photo/Steven Senne
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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren has covered the gambling beats for more than a dozen states for Catena Media since 2015. His past reporting experience includes two years at the Villages Daily Sun, and he is a first-place winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest.

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