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Gambling survey pegs problem and at-risk gambling in state at less than 10 percent

Men are three times more likely to have a gambling problem than women, black people are four times more likely to have a gambling problem than white people, and people whose education ended with a high school diploma are more likely to have a gambling problem than college graduates.

These are the findings of a survey of almost 10,000 Massachusetts residents, which is slated to be released Thursday, less than two weeks before the state’s first casino opens.

The study, conducted by the University of Massachusetts School of Public Health and Health Sciences, found that about 10 percent of adults in Massachusetts are now “at-risk” or “problem” gamblers — about the same as other states.

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The survey also found that at-risk and problem gamblers in Massachusetts are “significantly more likely” than other gamblers to be unemployed and to have annual household incomes of less than $15,000.

Touted as the “largest problem gambling survey ever conducted” in the country, the survey was mandated under the 2011 casino law that legalizes up to four casinos in the state. It will serve as a “baseline” against which to measure possible changes in the prevalence of problem gambling — up or down — as slot machines and tables games become much more accessible to state residents.

The survey also found that 59 percent of residents perceive the impact of casino gambling in Massachusetts to be neutral, beneficial, or very beneficial, while 41 percent considered it somewhat or very harmful — findings similar to the results of the 2014 referendum that upheld the casino law.

The survey found that about one-quarter of the population do not gamble; 40 percent gamble yearly; 20 percent gamble monthly; and 15 percent gamble weekly. It also found that 59 percent of the population buy lottery tickets; 22 percent go to casinos; and 3 percent bet on horse racing.

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At-risk gamblers are defined as those “persistently betting more than planned, spending more time gambling than intended, chasing losses and borrowing money to gamble.” Problem gamblers are defined as those experiencing “significant impaired control over their gambling and negative consequences as a result.”

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said more research was needed to explain the disproportionate number of black and poor people among at-risk and problem gamblers.

“What is known is the outcome,” he said. “A middle-class person may go on a binge and lose $2,000, but can afford it from savings, whereas the poor person who loses his money is devastated.”

Rachel Volberg, the principal investigator for the survey, said the research, combined with surveys planned for the future, will be used to shape programs to treat and prevent problem gambling.

“What’s exciting is to see how the state uses the data,” she said.


Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.