2% of Massachusetts residents gamble online; 13% enjoy illegal sports bets

massachusetts-gambling-surveyThe University of Massachusetts has released key findings of what it’s calling “the largest and most representative gambling survey ever conducted in the United States.”

The UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences survey queried nearly 10k state residents on their gambling attitudes, participation and problems. The survey is part of a broader Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) study that seeks to establish a baseline reference point prior to the launch of the state’s new brick-and-mortar casino operations.

The survey, which covered lotteries, sports and horserace betting, casinos, online gambling, bingo and casual wagers with friends, was conducted between September 2013 and May 2014. The UMass team plans to conduct a followup one year after the last of the state’s three new casinos has opened for business.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of respondents had engaged in at least one form of gambling in the past year. Of these, nearly 40% said they gamble once a year, 20% gamble monthly and 15% gamble on a weekly basis. The top motivation for gambling was to win money, followed by entertainment, socializing with family or friends and supporting charitable causes.

Lotteries (59%) and raffles (32%) scored the highest participation rates. Despite the lack of in-state options, some 22% of respondents enjoyed casino gambling over the past year, and nearly two-thirds of these had done so at a casino across the border in Connecticut.

Despite being illegal, sports betting participation was 13%, just above the 12% who reported wagering with friends. Horseracing and bingo each scored 3% participation, while online gambling brought up the rear with just 2%.

In terms of attitudes toward gambling, over half (59%) of respondents believe gambling’s impact on the state is either neutral, somewhat beneficial or very beneficial, while 41% deemed it somewhat or very harmful. Nearly one-third (31%) believe all forms of gambling should be legal while 11% would like to see all forms of gambling declared illegal.

In demographic terms, men were more likely (76%) to have gambled in the past year than women (69%). Middle-aged adults were most likely to gamble (77%), followed by senior citizens (69%) while those aged 18-34 years scored 67%. Caucasians scored highest (76%) on the participation scale, followed by blacks (68%), Hispanics (64%) and Asians (51%).

Just 1.7% of respondents were considered problem gamblers, defined as experiencing “significant impaired control” over their gambling activities. A further 7.5% were classified as ‘at-risk’ gamblers, based on their tendency to chase losses and spend more time and money gambling than originally planned. The study says the prevalence of problem gambling in Massachusetts is ‘very similar” to national trends.

Men were nearly four times more likely (2.7%) to exhibit problem gambling behavior than women (0.7%), while blacks were four times more likely (5.8%) than whites (1.4%) to experience problems. High school graduates were nearly three times as likely (3.7%) to have problems than gamblers holding college degrees (1.3%).

Overall, Massachusetts’ problem gamblers were “significantly” more likely to be male, black, unemployed and have an annual household income of less than $15k. At-risk and problem gamblers were also more likely to report poorer physical health, have serious problems with depression, anxiety and other mood disorders, use tobacco products and binge drink. These findings echo a growing body of research that indicates problem gamblers have problems that extend far beyond gambling.