MA Lawmakers Hear Brief of Problem Gambling Study

Rachel Volberg

Required research study results provided by investigator to Massachusetts lawmakers in regards to the gambling industry.

When the state of Massachusetts legalized casino gambling, one requirement was that a study be conducted on problem gambling as well as other areas. The main focus of the study was problem gambling with the state wanting to know how players are affected by the new gambling options. The study took place for an extended period of time with results showing that as many as 88,000 adults are estimated to be problem gamblers in the state. An additional 39,000 are considered to be ‘at-risk’ gamblers.

Reviewing the Findings

Rachel VolbergThe research showed that 1.7% of the adults in the state are considered to be a problem gambler. 7.5% of the population fall into the at-risk category. This information was provided by the principal investigator, Rachel Volberg, to lawmakers of the state. Volberg is a professor at UMass-Amherst who specializes in researching gambling. She presented her findings, of which came from September 2013 to May 2014, to lawmakers this past week.

The time frame was set just before the first slot venue opened to get an idea of what was taking place after gaming began. Additional research will also take place as there are still venues under construction. As they open for business, more studies will be conducted.

Working for the People

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission consists of five members, one of which is Enrique Zuniga, who described the project as one that is very ambitious and something that has never been done before. The survey is looking at gaming before and after casinos are introduced.

According to the survey, when no casinos were open, 27.5% of the population in the state were not gamblers. 63.4% were recreational gamblers who enjoyed playing but were not harmed in the process. According to Volberg, there are significant differences between the rates of problem gambling based on certain factors including race, gender and education levels.

Volberg stated that men are three times more likely to have a problem with gambling than women. African Americans are four times more likely to have an issue than Caucasians. Those who have a high school diploma or less are two times as likely to experience an issue with gambling problems as opposed to those who have a college degree.

With the baseline survey, respondent’s attitudes in regards to gambling was gauged and it was found that 57.5% believe that some form of gambling should be legalized. 63.1% felt that the current options available are fine. 22% felt that there was not enough gambling in the state. 15% felt that gambling was too available.

The study showed that 72% of those in the survey took part in at minimum of one gambling activity within the past year with the lottery being the top choice. 59% of those surveyed play the lottery while 32% take part in raffles. 22% visit a casino while 13% will wager on sports.

Just last month, an economic development law was signed by Govenor Charlie Baker to create a special commission that will study the regulation of online gaming as well as daily fantasy sports, fantasy sports gaming and more. Factors to be included in the study are:

Consumer protections

Economic development

Legal and regulatory structures


Burdens and benefits to the state

Implications of the activity to existing gaming options

The studies seem to be providing the right information to help lawmakers make decisions in regards to expansions as well as offering. It will be interesting to see what the study concludes involving online gaming and if Massachusetts will be in the mix to propose online gambling legislation in the future.