Massachusetts has been the seat of many innovations in the gambling industry over the past few decades. Some of them have involved gambling responsibly. As the state approaches the subject of expanding the legal options for its citizens, responsible gambling should take priority in those discussions. It’s as crucial to the success of gaming in the Bay State as any other element. Fortunately, the MA government has a lot of experience to call upon within its borders.
It’s just as important for companies offering gambling and gamblers to understand how to do business responsibly. Compulsive gambling issues are a serious matter. Additionally, it’s pertinent to protect vulnerable populations. We’ll break down what it means to gamble responsibly, how to recognize problem gambling, and list the resources available for Massachusetts residents when it comes to this issue. We’ll also highlight the organizations in this space unique to MA.
What is responsible gambling?
A good way to define this term is gambling offering gaming in ways that limit the harm done to vulnerable individuals as much as possible. Along with individuals who experience impairments in their judgment, such as those under the influence of controlled substances or with developmental disabilities, this includes minors. Of course, adults with compulsive gambling issues are front and center here as well. The onus is on all parties here.
Here are a few tips for playing responsibly when you gamble:
- Before you start playing, set a budget and stick to it
- Make sure you understand the rules of the game and your odds before placing your bet
- Only wager an amount of money you can easily afford to lose because you probably will
- Take a timeout or call it a day if you find yourself getting too emotionally wrapped up in the game
What is problem gambling?
Most people can gamble for fun without it becoming an issue in most cases. However, there’s no such thing as a person who is immune to developing such an issue. It also doesn’t mean that such a person is worse than others without compulsive gambling issues. What’s crucial is recognizing symptoms of problem gambling. Problem gambling is simply when a person’s gambling becomes a problem. A shortlist of possible warning signs includes:
- Borrowing money to gamble
- Constantly thinking about gambling
- Feeling guilty about gambling, especially to the point where you avoid discussing it with other people
- Gambling money you know should go to make investments or pay bills
- Losing interest in other activities
- Lying to other people about gambling habits
- Pawning or selling possessions to gamble
- Skipping out on work or other activities to gamble
- Stealing money or objects to sell for gambling money
Responsible gambling resources in Massachusetts
The MA legislature has continually pushed for a higher standard for gambling licensees when it comes to doing business responsibly. This has included calling for licensees to develop responsible gambling plans, form committees around the issue, and report their progress to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. A 2018 study commissioned by that commission showed that 2% of the state’s population had an issue, with another 8.4% of the population considered at-risk. The state has gotten involved in this issue in a couple of other ways.
In 2017, the University of MA School of Public Health and Health Sciences created a tool called PlayMyWay. It’s essentially a free pre-commitment program. The first gambling establishment in the state to enroll was Plainridge Park Casino. With PlayMyWay, players can set a budget and receive notifications as they approach that threshold. Just these reminders can be effective deterrents to irresponsible gaming.
The private sector in Massachusetts is quite active as well. That begins with GameSense, a Boston-based company that works with gambling operators. Through the program, gamblers can get a detailed “snapshot” of their gambling activity over a set period of time. It measures time as well as money. Plainridge Park along with Encore Boston Harbor and MGM Springfield work with GameSense. Another non-government agency pertinent to this conversation is the MA Council on Gaming and Health.
The non-profit organization advocates for responsible gambling standards and funds programs for people with gambling problems. It operates a helpline at (800) 327-5050 and live chat service for anyone affected by problem gambling. The website also has educational materials for anyone interested. There are other similar groups not unique to MA but available to residents of the Bay State nonetheless, like:
- Gamblers Anonymous: a support group for individuals with compulsive gambling issues
- Gam-Anon: a support group for people who do not have a gambling problem themselves but have a loved one in their lives who does
- GamTalk: a moderated virtual peer forum for anyone affected by problem gambling
- National Council on Problem Gambling: the NCPG maintains a list of resources for Massachusettsans, including a call or text helpline (800) 522-4700 and live chat
Voluntary self-exclusion programs in Massachusetts
In most places with legal gambling, part of the regulated landscape is a way for people to restrict themselves from playing. MA is no exception to this rule. The state offers a self-exclusion program for residents and non-residents alike. Through the program, people with compulsive gambling issues can safeguard their interests by barring themselves from taking part in the industry. The program also guides the conduct of gambling licensees.
People who register for the program can’t be on the premises of licensed gambling establishments in MA. Additionally, the program forbids those businesses’ advertising to everyone on the list. The state administers the program, distributing lists of enrolled persons to gaming companies. The important things to remember are the words in the program’s name.
First, it’s completely voluntary. No matter how serious a person’s compulsive gambling issues are, no governmental body in the state can compel someone to register. Then, it’s a self-exclusion program. No one in MA can sign anyone else up for placement on the lists. Enrollees do have options, though. They can register for a period of:
- One year
- Three years
- Five years
- The rest of their lives
Enrollees may change up the duration of their exclusion or renew it once a term has expired. However, there’s no method of removal from the program before an enrolled term expires. So, for example, let’s say you initially sign up for a year of exclusion. After that year expires, you can sign up for any of the other terms or just do another year. You can’t take yourself off the list before that year is up, though. Also, there’s no revocation of lifetime exclusions.
To register, you can visit any of the GameSense Info Centers in the state’s three commercial casinos. Additionally, you can call (617) 533-9737 or email [email protected] to set up an appointment to enroll at the MGC’s offices in Boston. The state also has designated agents in many communities for this purpose. Completing your enrollment will require your photo ID and a completed enrollment form.
Importance of responsible gambling
Since 2017, when the legislature first looked at regulating daily fantasy sports contests that take place online, responsible gambling has been a forefront issue for the state government. It’s also a daily concern for all the licensed gambling establishments in the state. All those efforts only work their best when gamblers take their part just as seriously. Many resources are not only widely available but completely free to access.
As Benjamin Franklin is attributed with coining, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If MA gamblers take simple steps like budgeting and playing with their heads, the prevalence of problem gambling can stay low in the Bay State. An easy-to-remember phrase is, when gambling stops being fun, you’re done.