Casino employees in Massachusetts keep an eye out for problem gamblers as industry grows.

Earlier this year, sports betting was officially introduced in Massachusetts, marking the state’s latest form of legal gambling since the passage of casino legislation in 2011. The law was significant for its requirement that a portion of gambling revenues go towards mitigating the harms of gambling, including inside the casinos themselves. Now, at the MGM casino in Springfield, there is an open office with comfy green chairs, and visitors are greeted by Amy Gabrila, who works for the state-funded GameSense program. The program, run by the nonprofit Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health, aims to help problem gamblers and is funded by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

GameSense advisors are present on the casino floor to look out for people in distress and help guide them on responsible gambling practices. These advisors often engage in conversations with gamblers, teaching them the real odds of winning big and how to set a budget. The goal is not to judge their habits, but rather to educate and support them.

Research shows that about 2% of the population in Massachusetts has a serious gambling addiction, with another 8% at high risk. With no national office designated to address these problems, states like Massachusetts must develop their own plans and programs. GameSense is based on the premise that when people understand the slim odds of winning at a casino, they are less likely to overspend. However, it is acknowledged that this approach may not work for everyone and the program has evolved to tailor information to different kinds of players.

In addition to educating gamblers, GameSense also provides tools like Play My Way, a budgeting tool installed on all slot machines in Massachusetts casinos. This tool allows players to set their own spending limits. It is optional but can be a helpful resource for those who struggle with compulsive gambling. Players feeling out of their depth can also opt for a voluntary self-exclusion from the casino or sports betting for a set amount of time, or indefinitely. Those on the self-exclusion list are offered recovery support from the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health, where staff who understand the struggle of gambling addiction can offer their expertise for those in need of help.