Massachusetts Considers Betting Reform Amidst Rising Problem Gaming Cases

Written By Ayla Fry on April 5, 2022 - Last Updated on August 24, 2023
Problem Gambling Cases Rising In MA

If you’re in a state where sports betting or casino game is legal, then you’ll know what I mean when I say: I dare you to watch an hour of TV without seeing an ad for a sportsbook or a casino. For the past few years, advertising space has been absolutely dominated by the gambling market. This especially holds true when a new casino or sportsbook is opening up in a state.

The Massachusetts gambling industry witnessed this trend firsthand back in 2018, when they were opening their first-ever resort casino. Prior to the launch of MGM Springfield, the only option for Massachusetts gamblers was the Planridge Park Casino in Plainville.

All that changed on Aug. 24, 2018, when MGM Springfield opened its doors to the public.

In anticipation of its opening, MGM Springfield ran a bevy of ads across all sorts of media platforms to stir up excitement. While the ads sure did their job–MGM Springfield had a massive opening weekend–they also stirred up something that isn’t as fun.

Problem gaming rates rise in Massachusetts

As the ads for MGM Springfield continued to make their rounds, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission noticed a dangerous trend. They saw a “significant increase” in the number of people with gambling problems in Massachusetts at the release of the ads. Relapse also became an issue.

“That increased publicity and media attention about gambling aligned with those elevated rates of problem gambling, indicating that those relapses in problem gambling were not likely due to the physical availability to gamble — because the casino was not open — but rather due to the increased publicity and media attention in advance of the opening of the casino,” Research Manager Marie-Claire Flores Pajot said, referencing a finding of a six-year study of problem gambling in Massachusetts.

This rise in problem gaming around the same time as commercials began to air for the new casino opened up a discussion that many felt was overdue.

This holds especially true in Massachusetts. Legal MA sports betting is knocking on the door, ready to come in at any moment.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission often shows serious interest in attacking the gaming industry’s advertising practices. Most are constantly scrutinized as being irresponsible and inconsiderate.

What is being done?

So we’ve realized there’s a problem. Now what?

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is doing everything it can to get to the bottom of this. The commission’s research team presented a white paper covering all the current gambling advertising regulations.

Mark Vander Linden, the commission’s director of research, had this to say on behalf of the gambling industry’s ad practices:

“Advertising to sell a product or services is nothing new. In recent years, however, advertising practices have become especially pervasive; it’s no longer television commercials, billboards and newspaper ads. Advertising today utilizes user-specific data collected through social media and other means to push out highly-targeted ads through our smartphones and other screens”

He continued, “On the surface, it appears this is the free market at play. But gambling is not a risk-free activity and therefore commissioners may wish to consider additional measures to limit and/or contain gambling advertising in Massachusetts by our licensees and their parent companies in order to minimize harm.”

The state already mandates that casinos and gaming license holders cannot target anyone younger than 21. They also enforce strict rules regarding the inclusion of problem gaming information at the end of every advert.

While these are great measures, they’re not enough. The paper presented by the commission suggested some additional changes, which include these measures:

  • Requiring a portion of each licensee’s marketing and advertising budget to go to responsible gaming messages
  • Prohibiting advertising that over-saturates the market
  • Mandatory training for casino officials involved in advertising and marketing

Taking a page out of the Cannabis Commission’s playbook

One recommendation that grabbed the interest was adopting similar advertising regulations as the Cannabis Control Commission has in place for marijuana companies.

Under that model, gambling operators would not be allowed to advertise on:

  • Television
  • Radio
  • Internet
  • Mobile Application
  • Social Media
  • Billboards
  • Other Print Media

The above applies unless the “reasonably expected” audience of the advertisement is 21 years of age or older.

For example, a gambling company would not be allowed to have an advertisement for their sportsbook on a normal residential street. However, inside of a bar where patrons have to be 21 years of age or older, it could be accepted.

Massachusetts Problem Gaming Information

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, there are many different support systems available in Massachusetts.

Individuals can call 18003275050 or visit the local gambling helpline website to speak with a trained specialist and receive support.

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