Gambling has taken off in Massachusetts, and with it, incidents of problem gambling also have increased. Fortunately, the state created a responsible gaming program to help, and gamblers are using it. GameSense estimates tremendous growth in 2022.
With the legalization of Massachusetts sports betting still a possibility this year, more gamblers could seek help with problem gambling habits. The state’s gambling experts are at the ready to educate and advise.
At the core of the state’s responsible gaming initiative is GameSense, an innovative approach to curtail problem gambling. It is overseen by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) and the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health (MCGH).
The program is unique in the US. Since its launch six years ago, it’s helped more than 1,500 people sign up for voluntary self-exclusion. VSE bans a player from the gaming floors of all Massachusetts casinos.
What is GameSense?
MGC adopted the program and worked with MCGH to implement the plan. GameSense interacts with gamblers in a variety of ways:
- Information centers at casinos are open and staffed by a GameSense adviser 16 hours a day, seven days a week.
- The GameSense website offers a wide variety of resources focusing on problem and responsible gambling.
- A live chat feature on its website also connects people with GameSense advisers.
The program’s advisers receive in-depth training. They are taught techniques for responsible gambling and how to recognize problem gambling behavior. They also learn about local resources available for gamblers.
Many advisers “come to the position with professional gaming experience,” MCGH Director of Responsible Gambling Chelsea Turner told PlayMA.
“Our staff also go through extensive training on everything from the MA Gaming Commission’s logic model, to motivational interviewing, to suicide prevention, to mental health first aide,” Turner said. “This doesn’t just happen upon on-boarding. It happens routinely and over time.”
How does the program play out in a gambler’s everyday life? Turner said GameSense, among other things, performs various demonstrations for gamblers that highlight techniques for safe gambling.
“Examples of this include using an augmented reality app to teach about the house edge, an educational quiz about Halloween that ties in superstitions and gambling myths and using brochures to discuss the myriad of resources that are available if someone’s gambling is no longer fun,” Turner said.
The program also explains all the rules of games gamblers find at Massachusetts casinos. It addresses myths, too, such as hot slots and lucky numbers.
Does GameSense work?
GameSense tracks interactions it has with gamblers, whether through in-person discussions at informational kiosks at casinos or via live chat.
MCGH presented its 2022 projections at a recent MGC meeting. MCGH projects around 190,000 interactions in 2022, an increase around 25% over 2021. The number of voluntary VSEs requested through GameSense also is projected to increase by around 40% year over year.
To drive home the point about the program’s effectiveness, Turner pointed to a recent VSE request from an out-of-state gambler.
“He was going to a wedding in Boston and wanted to self-exclude before his plane touched down at the airport in (Massachusetts),” Turner said. “We were able to successfully conduct a VSE with him remotely so that he could feel better about his trip. This is pretty extraordinary.”