Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts: Results of a Baseline Online Panel Survey

Robert Williams, co-Principal Investigator on the SEIGMA project, is a professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Lethbridge, in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada and also a Research Coordinator for the Alberta Gambling Research Institute. He and his colleagues on the SEIGMA Social and Health Impacts Team have just produced a report derived from a Baseline Online Panel Survey (BOPS) of 5,046 Massachusetts residents during 2013-2014.

The purpose of the Baseline Online Panel Survey (BOPS) is to study problem gamblers in the state in more detail than the SEIGMA study’s Baseline General Population Survey (BGPS). The BGPS examined a sufficient number of problem gamblers to reliably establish their prevalence in the population, as well as their demographic and gambling profile. However, the number of participants was too small to arrive at a more detailed understanding of problem gamblers in terms of:

  1. Their prevalence of negative personal impacts (i.e., bankruptcy, suicide attempts, divorce, arrests, etc.)
  2. The differential impact of different types of gambling on these negative impacts
  3. Their treatment-seeking behavior
  4. How these indices change after casinos open in the state

With the BOPS, we were able to achieve a greater understanding of these issues. Although online panels are demographically representative of the population, they contain an unusually high prevalence of people with various types of pathology, including problem gambling. Using a sample size of half of the BGPS, the BOPS recruited 2.5 times more problem gamblers (i.e., 317 versus 129), which allowed us to address the above issues.

Financial problems were the most commonly reported negative impact of gambling we found, experienced by 3.8% of gamblers and roughly 51.1% of problem gamblers. In addition, 5.2% of problem gamblers declared bankruptcy because of gambling. Health and stress-related problems were almost as common as financial problems, reported by 3.8% of gamblers and roughly 48.6% of problem gamblers. Mental health problems were the next most common impact, reported by 3.2% of gamblers and roughly 34.0% of problem gamblers. Suicidal thoughts were relatively uncommon, reported by just 4.4% of problem gamblers. Relationship problems were also relatively infrequent, reported by just 1.1% of gamblers and roughly 16.3% of problem gamblers. Other discrete relationship impacts included: 9.1% of problem gamblers neglected their children or family, 5.2% reported domestic violence, and 3.7% became separated or divorced due to gambling. Work or school problems were an uncommon impact, reported by only 9.3% of problem gamblers. Committing illegal acts was the rarest impact, reported by just 0.5% of gamblers and 8.4% of problem gamblers.

Only a minority of problem gamblers (28.2%) reported that certain types of gambling contributed to their problems more than others. For those that did report this, there was no type of gambling that was overwhelmingly endorsed.

A total of 49.8% of gamblers had heard or seen media campaigns to prevent problem gambling, with this ratio being similar for problem gamblers (48.7%). A lower percentage were aware of programs to prevent problem gambling at work, school, or in the community (16.3% gamblers, 28.4% problem gamblers). Only 1.2% of gamblers reported that these media campaigns or prevention programs altered their behaviour, but this was higher for problem gamblers (7.6%). Finally, 25.4% of problem gamblers wanted help for their problems and 16.1% had actually sought help.

These findings provide a baseline profile of the negative impacts of gambling in 2013/2014. A follow-up online panel survey will be administered in 2020 to examine the change in these impacts as a result of the introduction of casino gambling to Massachusetts.



Volberg, R.A., Williams, R.J., Stanek, E.J., Houpt, K.A., Zorn, M., Rodriguez-Monguio, R. (2015). Gambling and problem gambling in Massachusetts: Results of a baseline population survey (BGPS). Amherst, MA: School of Public Health and Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Published 02/02/2017