Sports Betting Could Drive Responsible Gambling Innovations
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) is one of the premier responsible gambling organizations in the United States. According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Administrators for Disordered Gambling Services, the Massachusetts Public Health Trust Fund allocated $9.2 million to problem gambling services in FY 2021.
$4.6 million went to the Department of Public Health and $4.6 million went to the MGC. Critically, some of this money went into research to develop innovative problem gambling programs, including PlayMyWay.
PlayMyWay: A Simple Program Done Well
One program that has been successful in Massachusetts casinos is PlayMyWay. PlayMyWay is a budgeting tool that alerts gamblers as they hit certain milestones in their budgets. For example, bettors can get push notifications on their phones when they bet 75% of their casino budgets. It’s a simple tool that helps gamblers manage their funds instead of chasing losses. Encore Boston Harbor teamed up with the MGC and GameSense to launch PlayMyWay earlier this month.
With Massachusetts sports betting on the way, Massachusetts seems prepared for the responsible gambling needs of its state’s gamblers. Massachusetts spent $1.46 per capita in public funds on responsible gambling initiatives, the second-highest per capita investment in the United States. (Oregon has the highest at $1.66.) The national average per capita investment of public funds in responsible gambling is $0.42. So, Massachusetts’ leadership in this area is clear.
However, online sports betting apps in MA present new responsible gambling challenges to regulators. Typically, gamblers would have to travel to casinos in order to place their bets. This was not always the most convenient. With online sports betting, bettors can wager from home. This presents new responsible gambling opportunities, as well as risks.
Current Responsible Gambling Measures
Online sportsbooks already have responsible gambling measures in place. Bettors can set time and wager limits on their sportsbook accounts. They can also self-exclude, which means they can lock themselves out of their accounts for a few days to even years. Failing these proactive measures, Massachusetts also has a gambling helpline and treatment options across the state.
One next step that Massachusetts could take is to design a universal self-exclusion option. Currently, if a bettor wants to self-exclude from every sportsbook, then bettors must create accounts, log in, and manually self-exclude from each individual sportsbook. This is inefficient and exposes problem gamblers to welcome bonuses with misleading “risk-free” language.
A universal self-exclusion option would allow bettors to self-exclude without signing up for a sportsbook. It would also ensure that problem gamblers didn’t miss any brands that gained market access later. Universal self-exclusion hasn’t been implemented in other markets because each sportsbook brand has its own silo. Sportsbooks don’t have one database in common that automatically bans users for all of them.
Solving this technical issue would not only benefit Massachusetts. It would also benefit other states that could adopt the same solution and provide the same benefits to their sports bettors.
The Future Of Responsible Gambling
Responsible gambling resources vary across states. While Massachusetts is one of the best states at funding problem gambling programs, education, and research, three states invest no public money in problem gambling resources. (Those states are Arkansas, Mississippi, and Montana.) As states continue legalizing sports betting and other forms of online gambling across the United States, this issue will require greater attention.
The gaps between responsible gambling offerings could invite federal attention to the industry. It’s unlikely that federal attention would be limited to responsible gambling. The sports betting, and even the entire online gambling industry, could face federal regulation in such a scenario.
That potential for regulatory attention should incentivize sportsbook companies to lobby for greater responsible gambling funds in states that underfund problem gambling initiatives. They already lobby statehouses for favorable tax rates and license prices. A push for responsible gambling funds would be welcome from increasingly influential sportsbook companies.