Skip to main content

Sports betting first launched in Massachusetts in 2023, and the Bay State has already seen a 121% increase in calls to the problem gambling helpline. However, a third of the callers were reportedly asking for technical help with their sports betting apps, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH).

Legalization of sports betting probably led to a 121% increase in calls between July 2022 and June 2023

The Department of Public Health’s report released Wednesday detailed the overall spike between July 2022 through June 2023, with the highest rate at 2,069 calls between February and June 2023.

Sports betting launched in casinos last year on Jan. 31 and online sports betting started March 10, 2023.

“As access to gambling expands in Massachusetts, we remain focused on supporting and promoting prevention, referral and treatment options to help those with a gambling problem,” said Public Health Commissioner Dr. Robert Goldstein in a statement.

“The Problem Gambling Helpline is a centerpiece of these efforts. We are committed to working with our state and community partners to connect Commonwealth residents to appropriate resources so that people get the care they need,” Goldstein said.

According to the problem gambling helpline’s report, the increased calls are potentially the result of sports wagering ads rather than proof of an increased gambling problem in the state.

A total of 3,050 calls were made to the line last year, more than double of the previous year’s 1,378 calls made in 2022. Not all callers have gambling disorder. A third of those callers were “looking for technical assistance for their sports wagering mobile platforms,” the report read.

Out of those calls, 636 people were seeking support and information. This resulted in a treatment referral — a 41% increase over last year’s numbers.

Considering it was a 1,117% increase over 2022, sports betting was named as the number one reason for 73 of the 636 callers. Only six callers had the concern in 2022, the report said.

Problem gambling calls spiked across all age groups in Massachusetts

Furthermore, there was an increase in calls across all age groups. A 293% increase in calls came from people aged 30 to 39 who were looking for treatment referrals. A 56% increase in male callers was documented as well. Calls from females remained the same.

Legalized sports betting has “disproportionally impacted people of color and has a high level of comorbidity with substance use and mental health disorders,” per DPH.

Calls from gamblers who admitted casino gambling problems also surged over 200%.

Moreover, legalized sports wagering is especially impacting youth in the Pilgrim State.

The report cited a 2023 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey that showed 48.4.% of middle school students and 43.6% of high school students gambled in the past year.

“Expanded access to gambling in the Commonwealth poses risks, particularly to those in recovery, and highlights the need to provide responsive referrals to callers based on their needs,” Victor Ortiz, director of the Office of Problem Gambling Services (OPGS), said in a statement.

“The problem gambling helpline provides an important connection between those who are experiencing problem gambling — including sports betting — and services that can help. The OPGS committed to monitoring the ongoing impacts of sports wagering and expanded access to gambling on individuals, families, and communities in the Commonwealth.”

The department created OPGS in 2016 to help Massachusetts residents overcome gambling disorders. It will continue to fund over $10 million into new programs, including telehealth services, youth peer-to-peer mentoring, and public awareness campaigns.

To contact the Massachusetts Problem Gambling Helpline, call 800-327-5050.