Home » Sports betting fuels 121% spike in Massachusetts problem gambling calls

Sports betting fuels 121% spike in Massachusetts problem gambling calls

The launch of sports betting in Massachusetts last year is linked to a 121% increase in calls to a “problem gambling” helpline, but a third of the callers looking for technical help with their sports betting apps.

The state Department of Public Health’s report released Wednesday detailed the overall jump between July 2022 through June 2023, with the highest rate at 2,069 calls between February and June 2023. Sports betting launched in casinos last year on Jan. 31 and online sports betting started March 10, 2023.

Citing its public Problem Gambling Helpline campaigns designed to raise awareness, the fiscal year 2023 Problem Gambling Helpline report said the increased calls are likely the result of sports wagering ads and aren’t evidence of an increased gambling problem in the state.

“As access to gambling expands in Massachusetts, we remain focused on supporting and promoting prevention, referral and treatment options to help those with a gambling problem,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Robert Goldstein in a statement.

“The Problem Gambling Helpline is a centerpiece of these efforts. We are committed to working with our state and community partners to connect Commonwealth residents to appropriate resources so that people get the care they need,” Goldstein said.

A total of 3,050 calls were made to the line in fiscal year 2023, more than double last fiscal year’s amount of 1,378 calls. A third of those callers were “looking for technical assistance for their sports wagering mobile platforms,” the report read.

But of those calls, 636 people were looking for support and information, and it resulted in a treatment referral — a 41% increase over last year’s numbers.

And at a 1,117% increase over last year, sports betting was named as the reason for 73 of the 636 callers. Just six callers had the concern in fiscal 2022, the report said.

Though there was an increase in calls across all age groups, a 293% increase in calls came from people aged 30 to 39 who were looking for treatment referrals, and a 56% increase in male callers was seen. Females stayed about the same.

Calls from people in recovery and referrals for casino gambling problems each grew by well over 200% as more people looked for initial help and their loved ones also reached out. The report also cited a 2023 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey that showed 48.4.% of middle school students and 43.6% of high school students gambled in the past year.

“Expanded access to gambling in the Commonwealth poses risks, particularly to those in recovery, and highlights the need to provide responsive referrals to callers based on their needs,” Victor Ortiz, director of the Office of Problem Gambling Services (OPGS), said in a statement.

“The Problem Gambling Helpline provides an important connection between those who are experiencing problem gambling — including sports betting — and services that can help,” he said, adding his office is “committed to monitoring the ongoing impacts of sports wagering and expanded access to gambling.”

Problem gambling disproportionately affects young people and men of color, the report said. The department created OPGS in 2016 to help the commonwealth deal with the toll gambling potentially takes.

Since its establishment, the office has targeted its help to those specific groups in community outreach, educating through artwork, group sessions, presentations and other events.

It will continue its marked approach by putting over $10 million into new programs such as youth peer-to-peer mentoring, telehealth services and selective public awareness campaigns.

The Massachusetts Problem Gambling Helpline can be contacted at 800-327-5050. More information can be found on the website GamblingHelplineMA.org.