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As sports betting launches in Massachusetts, those worried about problem gambling can volunteer to exclude themselves from all gaming floors.

A crowd gathered at Encore Boston Casino in Everett for the first day of legal sports-betting in Massachusetts on Tuesday as the casino hosted a launch event to celebrate. John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe

Sports betting launched at 10 a.m. Tuesday in casinos across Massachusetts after more than a year of planning — and with it came another avenue for problem gamblers to get into trouble.

But the state’s “Voluntary Self-Exemption” model could provide a possible resource for those seeking to avoid temptation.

Voluntary Self-Exemption allows anyone to ban themselves from gambling floors in the state. All they have to do is reach out to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s “responsible gaming” initiative Game Sense to initiate the process. 

“It’s an effective tool for anyone who wants to distance themselves and take a break,” said Phil Sherwood, chief communications officer for the Massachusetts Council on Gambling and Health.

This is not a new concept for the state, but with the sports betting introduction, players can now apply the safe gambling mechanism to it for the first time.

Game Sense has professionals available for follow-up services with those who might need it, and casinos have these experts embedded on the gaming floors as well.

Mark Vander Linden, director of research and responsible gaming with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, said casino operators are tasked with keeping a close eye on those who make the agreement to voluntarily self-exclude so they don’t enter the betting floors. He also called it an “important decision” for those who want to make a conscious effort to stop gambling.

“It’s an agreement between the individual and whoever the operator is, whether it’s a casino or a sports book operator, basically saying I agree not to enter into the gaming floor, I agree not to enter into the sports wagering app,” Vander Linden said.

Online sports betting won’t launch until March at the earliest. 

When it does, though, Sherwood said it will pose an even bigger challenge to those who struggle with gambling. As it is, he said it’s nearly impossible to watch sports without seeing advertisements promoting sports wagering. 

“Imagine just having a casino in your pocket where you can just roll over in bed and place a bet,” Sherwood said. “That’s gonna put some people at risk.” 

He said the MACGH is going to be there to provide support to those who need it, and added that he believes the state has also done a great job historically of presenting gambling as a public health issue.

“They really considered public health and are investing in research to make sure that there are programs out there that help people,” Sherwood said.

Other tools for problem gamblers, or anyone else interested in controlling their betting habits, include PlayMyWay, where customers can limit their spending on slot machines. MGC’s Vander Linden said participants will get notifications while playing to remind them of set limits.

“It’s a program that is embedded in every slot machine in the state in order to to reinforce people’s decisions about how much they want to spend,” he said.

Outside of these, there are also community prevention services. Vander Linden said it’s important that people know their options, and that MGC needs to support them along the way.

“We recognize that we need to offer help in in many different ways … whether that’s a brochure, or something like PlayMyWay or talking with a Game Sense advisor or voluntary self exclusion,” he said.

The state also offers a Massachusetts Problem Gambling Helpline, integrated with the state’s Substance Use Helpline. People can call 1-800-327-5050 or visit gamblinghelplinema.org to speak with a trained specialist. Services are available in multiple languages and are free and confidential, according to the state’s website.


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