Home » Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health sees spike in people seeking help for gambling problems

Massachusetts Dept. of Public Health sees spike in people seeking help for gambling problems

BOSTON – The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) said it’s seen a significant increase in people calling for help with gambling problems and a lot of those calls are from people who say sports betting is their problem.

“I left out of there with nothing in my pocket,” says Boston resident and recovering gambling addict Tony Brewer.

Large increase in calls for help

According to the DPH, between 2022 and 2023, the state’s gambling helpline has seen a 121% increase in calls for help.

“In my younger years, I’d say around the 80s when gambling wasn’t legal, I started finding myself getting out of hand,” said Brewer. Scared, Brewer stopped and hasn’t bet since but he’s watched gambling grow. “There’s some people who just get the fever and they find themselves emptyhanded. It was coming down the pipeline when they wanted to legalize sports betting.”

In 2022, only six callers reported sports betting as their reason for seeking help. In 2023, that number went up to 73, a 1,117% increase.

Why have the numbers gotten so high?

The question is why have we seen an uptick in those numbers? DPH said it’s a result of improving access to helplines with public awareness campaigns and education statewide.

“The increase in calls is a sign that people are feeling comfortable reaching out,” said Odessa Dwarika, the program director for the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health. “If folks are experiencing harm but they don’t know how to get resources or they don’t feel comfortable getting resources, you’re not going to see the bump in numbers.” She warns gambling is a slippery slope, especially in Massachusetts with easy access and title teams. 

“Massachusetts is a really gambling rich environment. The most profitable lottery, three large casinos and now you have sports betting,” said Dwarika. “Sports betting can be a way where you feel more involved. They tend to chase their losses, they put money in, they lost that money and they’re going to put some more money in. And that is a sign of very risky gambling behavior.”

Just this year, seven major U.S. online gaming operators formed the Responsible Online Gaming Association, pledging $20 million to advance responsible gaming practices through research and education.