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Calls to Massachusetts Problem Gambling Hotline up 121 percent in a year, state says

People seeking help for gambling problems in Massachusetts sees significant increase
People seeking help for gambling problems in Massachusetts sees significant increase 02:18

BOSTON - New data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) shows more people are having gambling problems, especially with sports betting.

Call to the state's Problem Gambling Helpline were up 121 percent in just a year, between 2022 and 2023, DPH announced Wednesday. 

Some of those who called said they needed help because of problems with sports betting. The number of those calls were up more than one-thousand percent, according to the state. In 2022, only six callers reported sports betting as their reason for seeking help. In 2023, that number went up to 73, a 1,117% increase.

Why so many more calls for help?

So why has there been an increase? DPH said it's a result of improving access to helplines with public awareness campaigns and education statewide.

"The increase in calls is a sign that people are feeling comfortable reaching out," Odessa Dwarika, the program director for the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health, told WBZ-TV. "If folks are experiencing harm but they don't know how to get resources or they don't feel comfortable getting resources, you're not going to see that bump in numbers." 

Sports betting in Massachusetts

"Massachusetts is a really gambling rich environment. The most profitable lottery, three large casinos and now you have sports betting," said Dwarika. "Sports betting can be a way where you feel more involved. They tend to chase their losses, they put money in, they lost that money and they're going to put some more money in. And that is a sign of very risky gambling behavior."

Just this year, seven major U.S. online gaming operators formed the Responsible Online Gaming Association, pledging $20 million to advance responsible gaming practices through research and education.

"In my younger years, I'd say around the 80s when gambling wasn't legal, I started finding myself getting out of hand," Boston resident and recovering gambling addict Tony Brewer told WBZ.

He's watched gambling grow in Massachusetts. 

"There's some people who just get the fever and they find themselves emptyhanded. It was coming down the pipeline when they wanted to legalize sports betting," he said.

If you or someone you know needs help with gambling problems, call the hotline at 800-327-5050.

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