Published: September 15, 2022

Massachusetts Gaming Commission Discusses Responsible Gambling

A roundtable of experts helped commissioners learn more about tools to address potential risks

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission held a responsible gaming virtual roundtable Tuesday afternoon, bringing in experts in the sports betting industry for preliminary discussion as the commission prepares to craft regulations related to responsible gambling. 

Brianne Doura-Schawohl, a national consultant who formerly worked for the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling and participated on the panel, told Sports Handle afterward she’s impressed with the MGC’s thoroughness in looking into responsible gambling measures.

“There’s a real value to being methodical and doing your homework,” Doura-Schawohl said. “Being a first mover doesn’t always have its benefits, and Massachusetts really has maximized the opportunity to get expert opinions on what has been proven successful in reducing harm, and in this case creating the safest and sustainable of markets.”  

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Last week, the MGC brought University of Massachusetts professor Rachel Volberg into a virtual meeting to discuss recommendations to help problem gamblers in Massachusetts. The state, which recently legalized sports betting, will allow for the launch of mobile sportsbooks in the coming months. Regulators want to be prepared with responsible gambling measures when sports wagering platforms launch. 

Among the suggestions from Volberg was a potential ban on celebrity advertisements. The proposal received mixed reviews during Tuesday’s discussion. Alan Feldman, who focuses on responsible gaming issues at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, suggested celebrity advertisements related to responsible gaming tools could actually be extremely helpful. 

DraftKings recently announced a series of responsible gaming commercials featuring professional skateboarder Tony Hawk and pro wrestler The Miz. 

“Several companies are running responsible gambling ads with celebrities, so I don’t know that we necessarily want to just cut that off,” Feldman said. “I think that’s an area of growth that we would probably like to encourage.”

Cait DeBaun, vice president of strategic communications and responsibility at the American Gaming Association, also touted the value of advertisements in generating player registrations. This, in theory, helps move customers off the black market and onto legal, regulated sportsbooks. The AGA considers that a victory, and marketing is an essential piece of customer acquisition. 

“There’s an uphill battle to get consumers into the protection of the legal market,” DeBaun said. 

Others, like Marlene Warner, the executive director of the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health, shared some concern about the sheer volume of advertisements. She’s particularly concerned about at-risk communities being targeted with an overwhelming amount of sports betting advertising.

“I’m concerned about the cumulative effect of advertising on my children here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” Warner said. “I can’t go to Fenway with my kids and not see gambling advertising everywhere that they then connect back to the advertising that they see on NESN [and] on the internet.” 

Positive phrasing important

Several roundtable participants emphasized the importance of positive phrasing when it comes to responsible gaming tools. Bettors don’t want to feel alienated when opting into the use of such tools. 

“People overwhelmingly perceive these tools to be not for them, only people that have a problem,” Doura-Schawohl said. 

Doura-Schawohl told Sports Handle the tools are not designed only for those dealing with gambling problems, but also to prevent someone from developing a problem. Essentially, the tools hold value for most bettors.

One roundtable participant, Michael Wohl, a Carleton University psychology professor, urged that customers should be rewarded for using responsible gaming functions. Without incentive, it might be hard to persuade recreational bettors to use the tools. Wohl said that research suggests incentives create a “significant difference” in those willing to use the responsible gaming tools. 

“I think that this might be the future of RG programming to increase the uptake,” Wohl said.

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