Massachusetts Sportsbooks Attribute Bet Limits to Problem Gambling Concerns

Written By Mike Breen on June 4, 2024 - Last Updated on June 5, 2024
Ohio Bet Limits & Problem Gambling

When sportsbooks decide to limit how much bettors can wager, how often is it due to problem gambling concerns? And do operators use responsible gambling as an excuse to limit users when they’re actually being restricted for winning too much or too frequently?

Those were some of the issues addressed at a May 21 roundtable discussion about bet limits hosted by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. Though no sportsbooks currently operating in the state sent representatives, a few industry experts attended, including problem and responsible gambling policy consultant Brianne Doura-Schawohl.

While nothing has been proposed, Massachusetts sports betting regulators are considering whether or not regulations might be required to address concerns that sports wagering operators limit rule-abiding users simply for winning. But the commissioners also wanted to better understand the problem gambling element of bet limiting. Moreover, industry experts want to ensure such restrictions are being imposed for proper reasons.

Operators limit bettors for problem gambling suspicions

Sportsbook operators have said the decision to limit the amount a customer can wager is not based exclusively on a user’s winnings. Justin Black of Bally’s Interactive (whose Bally Bet sportsbook opens in Massachusetts this summer) was one of the few sportsbook representatives present for the discussion. Black explained limits are enforced when users are suspected of exploiting inconsistencies in odds and “(looking) to make an edge out of those imperfections.” 

Sportsbooks will also limit how much a user can bet when there are indications of problem gambling risks. The use of algorithms to flag problematic gambling behaviors is seen as a positive by most problem and responsible gaming experts. But many think more can be done. Doura-Schawohl was among the industry experts who shared stories of betting limits during the meeting.

“There’s probably not enough limiting being done right now across the board as it relates to problem and responsible gambling,” Doura-Schawohl said at the meeting.

Sportsbook operators have “billions of data points” at their disposal, she said, and that aggregate data could be better analyzed to pinpoint users who may be at risk for problem gambling. Instead of determining if a customer is at risk based on financial factors, the data could also be used to flag problematic behavioral patterns in a player’s wagering and spending habits. 

“(Sportsbooks need) to do a better job at tracking and then communicating and intervening with players that might be experiencing harm or are at risk,” Doura-Schawohl said. “That seems to be something I think is worth exploring with this commission and all jurisdictions that are looking to use the data to prevent gambling-related harms.”

Do sportsbooks cite problem gambling concerns erroneously?

Another concern is that sportsbooks may be citing responsible or problem gambling reasons for limiting bettors when that isn’t actually the case. Doura-Schawohl said that understanding bet-limiting practices becomes muddled when sportsbooks erroneously cite RG concerns. 

She cited a case in Washington DC where a bettor was limited due to an alleged problem gambling concern. In actuality, though, the restriction appeared to be solely because he was winning. She said that kind of false reason being given could be “detrimental to the wider public.”

Doura-Schawohl said:

“Having that very clear distinction about a case being a true problem or responsible gambling issue vs. a justification that actually may not be authentic or truthful for that rationale, I believe, is very important here.”

She also suggested that not all players who show problematic gambling behaviors are limited, perhaps because they are profitable for the sportsbook:

“How many people are being limited for problem gambling concerns and are they true?,” Doura-Schawohl asked. “Data in other markets suggests (potential problem gamblers) are not being limited at the same rates as winners because they’re heavily relied upon to build the revenue up for business.”

MGC commissioners want more info from sportsbooks

The commissioners were frustrated by sports wagering operators’ lack of participation at the May 21 roundtable. They were hoping to get more concrete information about their approaches to bet limiting, including how many people are limited for problem gambling suspicions and how many are restricted for other reasons. So far, U.S. operators have kept most behind-the-scenes bet-limiting details from the public. 

Industry consultant Dustin Gouker, who also participated in the roundtable, suggested that demanding data from the sportsbooks on their limiting practices would be a good first step towards helping the commission determine what kind of action to take, if any.

“Obviously operators have data about how much they’re limiting people and why,” Gouker said. “Maybe a great starting point would be, what percentage of Massachusetts (players) who bet at your sportsbooks who operate in the state … are limited for winning opportunities, because of violating house rules, or for responsible gaming (reasons)? That feels like a broad number that all of the operators should be able to provide you, if not publicly, privately.”

Photo by Dreamstime / PlayMA
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Mike Breen

Mike Breen is an Ohio-based professional writer who has more than two decades of experience covering sports, news, music, arts and culture. He has covered online sports betting, responsible gambling, and other gambling initiatives for a variety of markets over the last couple of years. That now includes PlayMA.

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