Gambling is fun. At the very least, it’s supposed to be fun. For most people who enter a casino or off-track betting facility in Massachusetts, that’s exactly what it is. However, the sad reality is that there are some for whom gambling is not fun at all. Instead, it’s a nightmare from which they cannot awaken.
Estimates vary, but problem gamblers represent anywhere from 1% to 5% of people who place a bet in Massachusetts. The National Council on Problem Gambling puts the figure at 1.7%, stating that roughly 88,000 adults in Massachusetts have a gambling problem. Of course, gambling problems don’t exist in a vacuum, so it’s probably more accurate to say that there are 88,000 Massachusetts families that are dealing with someone’s gambling gone out of control.
The good news is that Massachusetts is one of the better states for offering prevention services and help for the afflicted. This page is a resource for anyone who’s curious about the responsible gambling resources available in Massachusetts.
Basics of responsible gambling
Let’s discuss the few key terms that you will see on this page. First of all, we will use the terms “problem gambling” and “gambling addiction.” Problem gambling means that gambling is disruptive to your life and the lives of those around you. Gambling addiction means that the problem has progressed to the point that you cannot resist the impulse to gamble, no matter the cost to you and your family. Both conditions are troublesome, but gambling addiction is more serious.
Responsible gambling is a set of behaviors that gamblers use to help avoid those issues. Although gamblers might be irritated about a particularly bad night at the tables or spend several hours at the casino, it’s not a problem if their gambling doesn’t affect their ability to pay rent, buy food, or attend important family and social gatherings. So, for the most part, gambling responsibly has less to do with the amount of money or time someone spends gambling, but rather how it affects the individual’s own life.
Why is responsible gambling important?
Responsible gambling is important for Massachusetts residents because problem gambling is often a hidden disorder. Over time, illicit drug use or alcoholism tends to leave people with physical markings or criminal records. A gambling problem, on the other hand, may only be visible to the person suffering and, possibly, his or her bank. So, it is incumbent on people to watch for signs of a problem:
- Obsession — Their topic of conversation is always gambling, and their electronic devices usually have some sort of gambling activity on their screens.
- Lying or deception — If people lie or deceive others about their gambling habits — particularly loved ones with whom they have a close relationship — then it’s cause for concern.
- Unexplained financial issues — If a person who has a good job and is usually cautious with money is suddenly asking for loans, taking out extra credit cards or falling behind on utility payments, something may be wrong.
- Mood changes — A problem gambler needs to gamble to feel normal, so if you are worried, observe how someone acts if that person cannot visit a favored gambling venue. Irritability, anxiety and restlessness may indicate things are spinning out of control.
- Guilt — If gambling is supposed to be fun, then guilt is not part of the equation. If it is, or a person laments going to the casino, then it was not fun, and it might be something else.
It falls upon casino employees, law enforcement officials, lawmakers and members of the public to support one another and look out for those in trouble. Although casinos and state officials want to earn revenue from gambling activities, they (should) have no desire to bleed the customer base dry.
Responsible gambling resources in Massachusetts
Massachusetts’ response to problem gambling is multifaceted and comprehensive. There are three main outlets that assist those in need, along with several other groups that broadly support problem gamblers in the state.
First and foremost, the Massachusetts Office of Problem Gambling Services is a division of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and is the state-funded responsible gambling office. The OPGS, which began operating in 2016, has grown to the point that it commits more than $3.5 million to funding services for problem gamblers in Massachusetts. The first contact point that most people have with the office is through the MA Gambling Helpline. This service, available 24 hours a day, connects people and their families with trained counselors who can help them take steps toward recovery. The helpline is available at 800-327-5050 or via the live chat function on the helpline website.
Through this state office, there are several options for both self-help and outpatient counseling. Although not every resource is free, there are many free options available to those with financial need, particularly in the Boston area. The helpline counselors are trained and ready to refer potential patients to one of these providers or provide educational services.
Another place to seek assistance with a gambling problem is at the casinos themselves. GameSense is a part of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and represents a proactive approach to problem gambling by addressing the population most likely to suffer from it. Each gambling location in Massachusetts is home to a GameSense Info Center. This interactive display can help you understand if your gambling has reached a troublesome point, dispel some of the myths about gambling or simply provide an area for gamblers to take a break. GameSense booths have advisers available 16 hours a day, seven days a week. GameSense advisers are trained professionals with experience assisting problem gamblers, and they are there to help.
There is also an active nonprofit organization in Massachusetts that supports responsible gambling and provides information to problem gamblers in conjunction with the state response. The Massachusetts Council on Problem Gambling is the state affiliate for the National Council on Problem Gambling, the preeminent responsible gambling nonprofit in the nation. Because the Massachusetts state response to problem gambling is quite extensive, the MCPG primarily functions as an educational and referring resource. However, if you want to learn more about problem gambling and what to do about any concerns, this resource is one of the best.
Finally, there are several support communities that can sometimes be the key for people to get on the road to recovery and stay there. These groups usually hold weekly meetings in area venues that connect problem gamblers with others at various points in their journey. Instead of perhaps feeling judged by a clinician or state official, people can meet with others in a similar position and receive advice that works and support that comes from their true peers. Massachusetts problem gamblers (and their families) can explore the options at any of the following resources:
- Gamblers Anonymous — The largest and best-known support group for problem gamblers has meetings at multiple locations in Massachusetts every week.
- Gam-Anon — A sister organization to Gamblers Anonymous that provides support meetings specifically for the family and friends of problem gamblers and gambling addicts.
- Gamtalk — An online community that joins problem gamblers together. It can be an excellent option if you don’t like to travel or are feeling nervous about meeting face-to-face.
- Bettors Anonymous — A smaller support community that offers meetings in Massachusetts and advocates its own 12-step program to aid people in their journey back to the light.
- Smart Recovery — A more generalized community for addictions of all stripes, but those struggling can find face-to-face meetings, online meetings and self-help chats if they need more options for recovery.
- In the Rooms — The world’s largest online recovery community for all manner of addictions, it provides all those affected by addiction a place to receive support and encouragement from others at various stages of the process.
Voluntary self-exclusion in Massachusetts
There is one other responsible gambling tool that Massachusetts problem gamblers can explore. Voluntary self-exclusion is a necessary, though nuclear, option, with consequences that can be a bit on the severe side. As implied by the term, voluntary self-exclusion is when people have themselves banned from Massachusetts gambling locations for a period of time.
During that time, they cannot set foot in the gambling areas of any of the casinos in the state. If they do gamble, their funds will be subject to confiscation, and security will escort them from the premises. They are, effectively, persona non grata at the casinos until the exclusion period ends.
The exclusion period must last at least six months in Massachusetts. However, that time can easily be longer — all the way to a permanent ban. Regardless of the chosen time period, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission requires that the excluded player complete a reinstatement training session with a gambling professional. That session will include tips for responsible gambling, a review of the risks of gambling and a list of resources for the excluded person. Only by written release from Mass Gaming may a member of the exclusion list gamble once more.
Because voluntary self-exclusion is so radical and absolute, it is not a step to take lightly. It is also not a step you can take on behalf of someone else. In other words, the only way for people to go on the self-exclusion list is if they do so themselves. Family members and friends cannot have their problem gambler relatives “committed,” so to speak, no matter how ruinous their gambling has become.
However, self-exclusion can also be a lifesaver for people in Massachusetts who can be honest with themselves about their ability to stop gambling. If no amount of therapy or meetings is going to keep you off the gambling floor, then self-exclusion might be the answer. Signing up takes only a couple of minutes, and you can do so both online and in person at each casino’s GameSense table.
The bottom line: Responsible gambling in MA
Problem gambling is everywhere, regardless of the location or the government’s opinion on the matter. Although gambling addiction is never a good thing, it’s a bit of a blessing for people in Massachusetts that there are so many options for them to seek assistance. Residents in other states may not be so fortunate. There is truly no reason for Massachusetts citizens to struggle with a gambling problem one minute longer. Call the helpline at 800-327-5050 to start on the path to recovery. Every dollar you save is one that can keep the lights on longer. Every minute you save is time you give back to your loved ones. Don’t wait.