William J. Pascrell, III and Martin Lycka submitted this article to PlayMA for publication, and the opinions expressed in this article are theirs.
Legal sports betting has arrived in Massachusetts, just months after it was signed into law by Governor Baker, with retail betting to launch at three locations on Jan. 31 — just in time for the Super Bowl and March Madness.
Much attention has been paid to a booming industry and expected tax revenues. Still, there hasn’t been an accompanying focus on a critical threat to residents of the Bay State: problem gambling.
While the vast majority of people who gamble do so responsibly, 5 million Americans may experience a gambling problem every year. The effects of gambling addiction extend beyond the addicts themselves, negatively impacting their families and communities. These effects could heighten as gambling becomes more widespread throughout Massachusetts if operators don’t strengthen their responsible gambling measures.
Currently, of all the tax revenues to be collected from sports betting in Massachusetts, just 9% will go toward the state’s Public Health Trust Fund, which invests in various programs to prevent and treat problem gambling. A more significant portion of this tax revenue should be dedicated to helping problem gamblers, including through treatment centers and through research into the root causes of addiction and how operators can incorporate the data into their safety protocols.
In Ohio, ahead of its recent sports betting launch, several state agencies with a stake in legal sports betting have unveiled a new responsible gambling campaign, intended to alert residents to the dangers and signs of problem gambling. State agencies also launched an initiative allowing people to voluntarily ban themselves from all legal gambling.
Like Ohio, Massachusetts has its role to play in addressing problem gambling. However, the onus is on gambling companies to protect their consumers — not only because they bear the responsibility of managing the products that people gamble on, but because they are most capable of enacting changes that can reduce the threat of problem gambling.
Operators should utilize all technologies available to track problematic gambling behavior and restrict those gamblers’ access to their platforms. Gambling companies can collect a range of data points that point to addictive gambling behavior, or “markers of protection,” and they must incorporate this data into their compliance and safety practices.
Operators can also fund responsible gambling initiatives exploring new ways to reach gamblers and those in high-risk groups, like college athletes. For example, Entain Foundation U.S., for which we serve as trustees alongside former New York Giants wide receiver Amani Toomer, sponsors or partners with a range of responsible gambling organizations.
It is imperative for Massachusetts’ gambling industry to adequately address problem gambling in all forms. Beyond operators’ ethical obligation to protect their customers from harm, gambling companies depend on a healthy customer base, a suitable regulatory environment, and collective public support to survive. None of these dependencies can be assured if problem gambling continues to hurt consumers.
This New Year, both the state and gambling operators must pledge to do their part in protecting vulnerable populations and safeguarding the industry.
William J. Pascrell, III and Martin Lycka are Trustees at Entain Foundation U.S., a nonprofit dedicated to promoting responsible gambling, sports integrity and corporate compliance in the U.S. The organization sponsors a variety of information and education programs on problem gambling for professional athletes, collegiate athletes, coaches and teams at 40 U.S colleges and universities and several associated leagues.