Problem Gambling Data A Clarion Call For Legalization Of Online Gambling In MA

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There are zero legal online gambling sites in Massachusetts, but that doesn’t mean people don’t gamble online in the Bay State.

In the United States, online gambling is only legal and regulated in the following locales:

  • New Jersey: casino and poker
  • Delaware: casino and poker
  • Nevada: poker and sports betting

That being said, online gambling (poker, casino, sports betting, and beyond) is widely available across the United States.

In most states, including Massachusetts, online gamblers don’t have the same protections as gamblers in New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada.

They have no choice but to play on offshore, unlicensed, and unregulated online gaming websites – sites that have a spotty track record when it comes to doing right by their customers.

A recent report submitted to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission by the University of Massachusetts School of Public Health and Health Sciences sheds some much-needed light on how much illegal online gambling is taking place, and who is being left at the mercy of these offshore operators.

SEIGMA research

According to the report, which is part of the Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts research program (SEIGMA), just one percent of people gambled online in the past 12 months.

*The data was taken from a 2013/2014 poll by Ipsos where 317 of the 5,046 respondents were identified as problem gamblers. SEIGMA weighted the numbers to conform with Massachusetts demographic breakdowns.

However, that number balloons to over 11 percent when we narrow the focus down to just the problem gambler demographic.

Taken by itself, this data seems to indicate that problem gamblers are big fans of online gambling. However, when we place it in the proper context and compare it with the prevalence of problem gamblers in other forms of gambling, the online gambling numbers tell a different story.


 Form of gambling  Baseline population  Problem gamblers
 Traditional lottery  57.2%  96.1%
 Instant win tickets  36.1%  82.2%
 Daily lottery games  12.3%  53.5%
 Casino  19.2%  55%
 Bingo  3%  14%
 Horse racing  3.4%  18.6%
 Sports betting  10.7%  31.8%
 Private betting  8.8%  23.3%
 Online gambling  1.1%  11.6%


Online gambling is the least common gambling outlet from both the baseline and problem gambling groups.

Furthermore, the increase in usage among problem gamblers is 10.5 percent, which is also the lowest among all the forms of gambling considered:

  • Instant win tickets: +46.1 percent frequency
  • Daily lottery games: +41.2 percent frequency
  • Traditional lottery: +38.9 percent frequency
  • Casino: +35.8 percent frequency
  • Sports betting: +21.1 percent frequency
  • Horse racing: +15.2 percent frequency
  • Private betting: +14.5 percent frequency
  • Bingo: +11 percent frequency
  • Online gambling: +10.5 percent frequency

What else the report tells us

In addition to being an outlet that just one-in-nine problem gamblers uses (the lowest of all forms of gambling), the report highlights two key points about online gambling:

  1. Online gambling is already available.
  2. Prohibiting online gambling does little to nothing to curb access to gambling in general.

New Jersey offers the blueprint to deal with problem gambling

New Jersey is a perfect example of how states should deal with online gambling.

Instead of prohibiting online gambling to protect vulnerable populations like problem gamblers, the better solution is legalization and robust regulation.

In its yearly summary for the state (research that only exists because New Jersey legalized and regulated online gambling), the Rutgers Center for Gambling Studies found that nearly 10,000 of the 378,000 accounts created at regulated New Jersey online gaming sites over the course of 2015 ended up using the built-in responsible gaming features to self-exclude.

*Author’s note: Accounts created doesn’t equate to the number of unique players. According to Rutgers, the mean average was just over three sites, which means the number of unique sign-ups was closer to 125,000.

Not a single US customer of an offshore, unregulated online gaming website self-excluded because they don’t offer self-exclusion or any other responsible gaming feature.

As the research team noted, the people who opted to self-exclude were high-risk for problem gambling as they were well above the mean average of 12.88 days per month placing wagers, as well as the average total yearly wager amount of $22,422.89:

“Prior to self‐ excluding, these players played on an average of two sites, though some players gambled on up to six different sites. Gamblers who went on to self‐exclude bet a mean of 23 days…

Over the course of the year, the average player wagered $44,959 before self‐excluding, though totals were highly variable with one player betting over $11.5 million.”

The way to protect these players is to give them the option to self-exclude, or use some of the other responsible gaming features. These range from cooling-off periods to setting time, deposit, or stop-loss limits; all are offered at regulated New Jersey online gaming sites.

Furthermore, each New Jersey online license holder is required to contribute $250,000 annually to responsible gaming initiatives, which help fund treatment and research, and pay for things like the Rutgers study.

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Bottom line

If you want to protect problem gamblers, prohibition is the worst way to go about it.

The right thing to do is legalize and regulate online gambling, with strong responsible gaming measures and funding for problem gambling programs and research.

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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