A Canadian consultancy reported to the Gaming Commission that Massachusetts gamblers could benefit from a better understanding of the games they play and the risks involved, and from better use of strategies such as setting a limit before starting to gamble.
Overall, a survey of more than 1,500 gamblers in Massachusetts showed that in several other states with legal gambling, their beliefs and behaviors about responsible gaming are largely in line with their peers, but that they are more likely to be less responsible players than in Canada.
The results from an online survey of 1,512 Massachusetts gamblers, all of whom had gambled in the last 12 months and half of whom had gambled at a Massachusetts casino during that time, were presented by Dr. Richard Wood, a psychologist who specializes in the study of gaming behavior for the company Gamres.
Wood took the results of the survey and measured “positive play scores” across four elements: personal responsibility, literacy in gambling, honesty, and control, and pre-commitment. Approximately 77 percent of the survey scored high on the metric of personal responsibility—meaning they clearly recognize the need to gamble only within their means. In the medium range, another 17% of players scored, suggesting they are mostly positive players but with some room for improvement. Six percent ranked low, which means that when it comes to personal responsibility, they are obviously not optimistic players.
On the honesty and control metric, Wood said that Massachusetts players also scored well, meaning most players know when it’s time to stop gambling and can control their betting.
But only 37.5 percent of Massachusetts players had high positive playing scores on gambling literacy, while 34.4 percent scored in the medium range and 28.1 percent were evaluated as having low gambling literacy. 58% of Massachusetts players scored high, 28% scored in the middle, and about 14% of players rated in the low category on pre-commitment, which measured the use of strategies such as going into the casino with a firm limit on wagers or losses.
Wood told the Gaming Commission that “Straight away, we can see that gambling literacy and pre-commitment certainly are areas that would benefit from a little bit more focus going forward.”
For Massachusetts regulators and responsible gaming advocates, the study found two specific areas of focus: young players and individuals who frequently play multiple types of games.
Wood found that as the age of players increased, positive play scores in all four categories increased, suggesting that as players grow older, they become more responsible, understand the games and the risks better, manage themselves better, and do more to set limits before playing.
He said that “We can speculate that as players gamble over time they get more experienced, they learn more about the games and get more exposed to responsible gambling initiatives. And, of course, being young is more of a time, in general, for risk-taking. But I think it shows us that having a focus on younger players and using media that would appeal to those players could be a useful way to focus responsible gambling strategy going forward.”
Wood found that the scores of Massachusetts gamblers were very close to the scores of players in four other U.S. states, where he performed the same form of analysis, in all four areas of focus. Yet U.S. gamblers were more likely to score in the medium or low range than Canadian gamblers, and that may be attributed to the amount of money put into responsible gaming efforts.
Wood said that “In terms of responsible gaming, I would say that Canada and Scandinavia are really kind of the leaders in terms of responsible gambling, they put a lot of resources into responsible gambling initiatives. so although this is correlational data, I think there’s some suggestion here that the amount of resources has an impact upon levels of positive play overall.”
In Massachusetts, casino sales help to fund prevention and reduction programs and facilities for problem gambling. Five percent of the tax revenue that the state receives from casinos every month and the slots parlor is earmarked to a public health trust fund established under the expanded gaming law of 2011.
As its “comprehensive responsible gaming strategy,” the Gaming Commission uses GameSense and the program involves information centers in each of the state’s gaming facilities and consultants whose interventions vary from casual conversations on topics such as betting odds to more in-depth assistance. The commission also mandates that Massachusetts casinos allow players to place themselves on a self-exclusion list for a defined period of time to prohibit themselves from gaming floors.
Wood recommended that responsible gambling initiatives in Massachusetts should focus on increasing gambling literacy and promoting pre-commitment strategies and that efforts should take a segmented approach because “a one-size-fits-all approach is definitely not optimal.”
He said that using “social proof” statements — like telling people that 82 percent of Massachusetts players say gambling is not a good way to make money — and explaining how slot machines and casino games function in easy-to-understand videos would be a decent place to start on the literacy front.
Wood said that the same idea can be deployed to promote pre-commitment, as can a strategy called anchoring, where players are told the average amount that a jackpot or other winner bet.
Wood added that “When you communicate to people what the majority of other people are doing, they can be very persuaded.
People … don’t want to stand out too much. They want to conform … so this can be a very powerful, persuasive way to get players to change their attitudes and behavior. There is also some good evidence to show that videos educating people about how games work can be effective.”
Wood also recommended that Massachusetts and other states get away from using the phrase “responsible gambling” because a lot of people have negative connotations connected to it.
He said that “Many players find it patronizing or they think that it’s irrelevant to them because they think that it’s all about people with gambling problems. so we need to think about the more general language around it. So instead of saying things like ‘limit setting’ or ‘budgets,’ which don’t sound like very much fun at all, we could talk about ‘saving my money’ or ‘my bankroll.'”
Mark Vander Linden, the Gaming Commission’s research and responsible gaming director, said that the data and analysis Wood provided Thursday dovetails nicely with other research conducted by the commission and will help fine-tune the GameSense program of the commission and other efforts.
He said that “We have the components available to us and through the GameSense program. How do we do that better? How do we craft that message that takes the components that already exist, move it, shift it a little bit, so that it becomes more effective and in a way that is measurable? That, to me, is a really valuable piece of what we’ll be able to take from this.
We’re not going lightyears ahead and introducing entirely new programs, we’re talking about incremental changes along the way to become the best program we can.”