Massachusetts Gaming Commission Debates Cooling Off Period for Problem Gamblers

Written By Dan Holmes on February 10, 2023
Ranking the 11 sportsbook apps coming to Massachusetts

A shorter self-exclusion period may be available for Massachusetts bettors when online sports betting debuts later this year. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) reviewed the option of a short-term “cooling off period” for gamblers to take a break from sports wagering, for as little as 72 hours or a week.

The goal of the shorter period of self-exclusion for players would be to assist those consumers not experiencing “positive play” with sports betting apps. The option has been utilized in at least one other state for lottery play, and a handful of sportsbooks offer “cooling off periods,” but no state has mandated it.

With a cooling off period, sports betting operators provide an option for sports bettors to check a box and pause their betting activity for 72 hours, one week, two weeks, three weeks, or a month. The MGC has not decided whether they would require sportsbooks to offer this functionality, and it’s not clear whether all sports betting operators have the ability to do so. 

Mark Vander Linden, Director of Research and Responsible Gaming for the MGC, admitted that no data exists on the effectiveness of such a cooling off period, or how many people would select such a short-term exclusion.

Also read: You Can’t Use Credit Cards at MA Sportsbooks. Other Methods?

Self-Exclusion vs. Cooling Off

Massachusetts does require sportsbooks to participate in a self-exclusion program. Under that option, a sports bettor can place themselves on a list that will prohibit them from placing a wager either online or at a casino/sportsbook location for a period of time. Often that period is 90 days or longer. Once a consumer self-excludes, they must wait for that period to pass before they can wager again. Self-exclusion is a key component of gambling resource assistance across the United States.

“We want to support positive play for our consumers,” Vander Linden said during a meeting of the MGC on Thursday, Feb. 9. “[We can] do a better job of reaching problem gamblers early on in their struggles with gambling.”

According to Vander Linden, research reveals that at-risk and problem gamblers are most likely to enter into self-exclusion, but “cooling off periods” have had little time to produce concrete data.

A cooling off is a less severe and shorter-term alternative to the self-exclusion, which often is chosen by sports bettors who have a serious gambling problem.

The MGC debated whether self-exclusion should be offered to a gambler just because they are a recreational gambler looking for a 72-hour cooling off period, or if there would be confusion over the two problem gambling offerings. 

Also during the public hearing, Vander Linden discussed possible triggers for gamblers, and how Massachusetts policy could be created to intervene in each instance.

The Commission identified goals for a cooling off period policy, if it is pursued, which includes:

  • Opt-in and opt-out is easy
  • Messaging delivered 24-72 hours before expiration of cooling off period
  • Ability to extend cooling off period if desired
  • Clear access to problem gambling resources
  • Providing information about voluntary self-exclusion

Pennsylvania offers a cooling off period for lottery play, ranging from 3-30 days. In other states with cooling off periods within sportsbook apps, the option is for between 24 hours and one week. Once the user chooses to enter the cooling off period, they cannot access their account for that period of time.

Also read: March 10 Floated as Potential MA Online Sports Betting Launch Date

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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is a Staff Writer for PlayMA with plenty of experience under his belt. Dan has written three books about sports and previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He also has extensive experience covering the launch of sports betting in other states, including Ohio and Maryland. Currently, Dan is residing in Michigan with his family.

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