Casino staff in Massachusetts on the lookout for players with gambling problems as industry grows

Earlier this year, sports betting became the latest form of legal gambling in Massachusetts, following the passage of 2011 casino legislation. This law includes a key stipulation that a portion of gambling revenues must be used to mitigate harm, including inside the casinos themselves.

At the MGM casino in Springfield, visitors can find an open office tucked on the side of the main floor where Amy Gabrila greets them from behind the counter. As an advisor for the GameSense program, which is run by the nonprofit Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health, Gabrila works with the goal of helping people to play responsibly and avoid gambling addiction. The program receives a $3 million annual budget from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which aims to help problem gamblers.

GameSense advisors, like Gabrila, cruise the casino floor daily, looking out for people in trouble. Their aim is to approach gamblers who may be in distress and offer assistance in managing their gambling behavior. However, this job requires a level of emotional agility, as they must transition from fun, interactive interactions with visitors to dealing with potentially troubled individuals.

The GameSense program is based on the premise that when individuals understand the slim chances of winning big at a casino, they are less likely to overspend. Thus, GameSense advisors are tasked with providing gambling literacy and visibility to players by being present on the casino floor, where they can offer assistance and information to those who need it.

While research indicates that as much as 2% of Massachusetts’ population has a serious gambling addiction, the state is taking proactive measures through GameSense and other tools to address these issues. The program’s effectiveness is currently being evaluated, with a focus on tailoring information to different types of players based on their age or gambling habits.

In addition to GameSense, Massachusetts also offers a program called Play My Way, which is a budgeting tool installed on all slot machines to allow players to set spending limits. Meanwhile, efforts are underway to target gamblers through advertising and location tracking to provide timely assistance and intervention.

For individuals who feel overwhelmed by their gambling behavior, Massachusetts offers a voluntary self-exclusion list, allowing them to ban themselves from casinos or sports betting. However, while this program has demonstrated some usefulness, further support and recovery assistance are still needed to address the issue of problem gambling effectively.