In 2023, Massachusetts became one of the states in the United States to legalize sports betting, following the repeal of the PASPA in previous years. This move opened a new chapter for wagering in the country, but also raised concerns about the potential increase in gambling harm.

New England Public Media interviewed experts to understand the efforts being made to help people play responsibly. Amy Gabrila, 47, is a GameSense employee at the MGM casino in Springfield. She shared that she can often sense why visitors come to the center, whether it’s to chat, learn games, or seek help with gambling issues.

Gabrila and her colleagues at GameSense actively monitor the casino floor for players who may be experiencing harm. When they make eye contact with a customer, they greet them and check on their well-being. If a customer admits to overspending, Gabrila tries to reassure them and encourages them to set a budget.

GameSense is a program run by the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health, sponsored by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, with the aim of mitigating gambling harm in the state. Gabrila, who previously worked in the casino industry, joined GameSense to help at-risk players make informed decisions about their gambling habits.

According to experts, 8% of the population in Massachusetts is at high risk of gambling harm, and 2% already experience severe addiction. Mark Vander Linden, the MGC’s director of research and responsible gambling, acknowledged that the industry has made progress in understanding harm over the past decade.

GameSense aims to teach players the true odds of gambling and help them make informed decisions. However, Lia Nower, the director of the Center for Gambling Studies at Rutgers University, noted that this approach may vary in effectiveness for impulsive risk-takers.

Gabrila shared the story of a regular customer, Monroe, who used to be a compulsive player but now benefits from GameSense’s budgeting program, Play My Way. Players who feel they are losing control can also exclude themselves from gambling through Massachusetts’ voluntary self-exclusion list, with the option to receive recovery support.

While this support is available, experts acknowledge that the safer gaming sector in Massachusetts is still underdeveloped, and there is more work to be done in addressing gambling harm.

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