With the recent launch of the Massachusetts sports betting market, some are calling on sports betting operators to lead the way in providing new research into gambling addiction.
Massachusetts sports betting launched on March 10, and while the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) has addressed concerns regarding gambling addition during open meetings, some are asking for more to be done.
Regulation and oversight comes with responsibility
When consumers create an account with a sportsbook, their activity creates a profile. Those data points pile up, and sportsbooks use them to analyze betting trends and improve their products.
MGC commissioner Eileen O’Brien has floated the idea of requiring sportsbooks in Massachusetts to use the data they gather from sports bettors to serve as basis for research into gambling addiction. In a meeting in March, O’Brien broached the subject of passing a regulation that would make operators provide anonymous usage data to seed research into gambling patterns, which may help foster responsible gambling in Massachusetts.
“We should look at ways that operators can help increase the research (into) gambling addiction,” O’Brien said. “(They) are the ones getting all of the data.”
So how much of a problem is problem gambling? According to Dong Chan Park, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University, about 0.5% of the population in the US experiences a gambling problem at some point in their life.
In 2016, a study by WalletHub listed Massachusetts as 25th in the nation for gambling disorders. Not surprisingly, since the study was performed prior to the US Supreme Court’s landmark decision that cleared the way for states to legalize the activity, Nevada ranked first.
Since the launch of sports betting in Massachusetts, close to 40 people have registered for the sports betting voluntary self-exclusion list, the MGC told PlayMA. That number is closer to 1,350 for casino gambling self-exclusion.
Sports betting operators already assist in gambling addiction services. Portions of the taxes they pay to operate in Massachusetts fund gambling resources and addiction service programs. In Massachusetts, 9% of tax revenue from sports betting activity goes to the state’s Public Health Trust Fund. That money is used to fund problem gambling and gambling education efforts. With revenue estimates, that could mean as much as $5.4 million annually.
But O’Brien and others who support her idea would like sports betting licensees to do more. Specifically with the data they collect. Gambling addiction experts may find the data a valuable resource for learning how sports betting activity can lead to gambling problems, which types of betting is indicative of a problem gambler and more.
Obstacles to apps sharing sports bettor data
There could be several challenges for such an endeavor.
- How could the data can be gathered safely and securely, as to not violate privacy laws?
- Where would such data reside? And who would be responsible for analyzing it and performing the research?
- What should be done with any research that results from such an effort?
Despite the questions that exist about such a project, the results could be worth the effort. Massachusetts could provide valuable research for an emerging public health concern.
One of the purposes of government is to protect consumers and the public. If the state is going to reap the tax benefits of something, it has a responsibility to investigate potential dangers.
According to a report from the Minnesota Star-Tribune last month, the federal government has not yet commissioned research into gambling addiction. That’s a sobering fact. And while states can do this on their own, no state has yet taken the step to require or even encourage sportsbooks to use their data to form the basis of research into addiction.
Massachusetts track record with responsible gambling
Massachusetts could be the perfect place to lead the nation on this issue.
The state has shown that it is serious about responsible gaming, according to gambling watch groups.
“One of the most important things that makes Massachusetts a national leader in responsible gambling is their statewide strategic framework for responsible gambling,” said Keith Whyte, Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, in an interview with PlayMA in January.
The MGC has established a program called PlayMyWay, an education program and resource for Massachusetts bettors. It allows consumers to set budgets for their wagering. It also teaches the common pitfalls that can lead to problem gambling or addiction.
If you or a loved one is experiencing problems with gambling, call 1-800-327-5050 or visit www.mahelpline.org/problemgambling to speak with a trained specialist for free, 24/7