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Gaming commission hears from experts, learn little sports betting research exists

The state Gaming Commission got an earful Tuesday.

“This was very informative. I’ve taken more notes today than I think I’ve ever taken in my year’s time here,” Commissioner Brad Hill said.

“I just want to second everything that commissioner Hill just said,” Commissioner Nakisha Skinner responded.

In August, Massachusetts became the 36th U.S. state to legalize bets on professional sports and some college sports.

The gaming commission, which will oversee implementation of the new law and deal with licensing, met Tuesday to hear from a panel of experts on the subject of gambling addiction and problem gambling.

Stressed heavily to the commissioners was the fact that little research has been done on the subject of sports betting, but apparent from what information is available is that so-called “voluntary self-exclusion” from gambling programs do not work as well as intended.

“The academic literature in this field is very thin and very young,” Alan Feldman, distinguished fellow of responsible gaming at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, told commissioners. “What we believe we may ‘know’ may actually not turn out to be true in six months’ or six years’ time, depending on how our research is able to continue to guide us.”

Still, Feldman and others said that the nature of sports betting — often conducted on a mobile device — lends itself to finding a way around established exclusion programs and that the state’s current model, employed at casinos, probably wouldn’t work as well for sports betting.

Further, sports betting advertising, commissioners were told, is effective at luring new gamblers, doesn’t take into account problem gamblers, and often falls outside the scope of regulatory agencies.

This comes as new research shows that the rate of sports betting in Massachusetts is going up ahead of the law’s implementation.

UMass Amherst’s Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts project last week reported to the commission that upwards of 20% of residents bet on sports, a number they say is rising and “similar to the prevalence rate in other states where sports betting has been legally operational for several years.”

“Coincident with the national increase in sports betting participation, there is evidence of some increase in national as well as Massachusetts-specific levels of gambling-related harm,” the study authors wrote.

The report also noted that populations not already prone to gambling, such as adolescents, young adults, women, immigrants, individuals in recovery from gambling problems, and college athletes” are disproportionately affected by advertising.

No vote was taken by the commission, which has not been specific on when sports betting will go live in the commonwealth.

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