Fairwinds Warns Of Pitfalls Of Online Sports Betting, Now Legal In Massachusetts

Jason Graziadei •

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Does your wallet feel a little lighter this morning?

Online sports gambling became legal in Massachusetts last Friday morning. There were immediately six competing online wagering systems available - BetMGM, Barstool Sportsbook, Caesars Sportsbook, Draftkings, FanDuel, and WynnBet - all of which offered some form of initial promotion to lure betters to their platform.

Massachusetts became the 37th state to legalize online wagering on sports since 2018, when the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, or PASPA, which had kept sports betting illegal except in Nevada and a small number of other states.

But with the new accessibility comes pitfalls that these other states have been grappling with, namely, that sports gambling can become an addiction for some people - especially with the ability now in the palm of your hand through any connected smartphone. We reached out to Fairwinds - Nantucket’s Counseling Center, to ask what users should be wary of, and what resources are available.

“I think the important thing is people do not realize that gambling can become addicting like drugs and alcohol,” said Amanda Wright, Fairwinds’ clinical director. “There is information on gambling but online sports gambling is a newer concept and one people do not feel can become a habit that leads to someone being out of control and at risk for addiction.”

Wright said that in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), gambling is classified as an impulse-control disorder that can be harmful to one's psychological and physical health. The legalization of online sports gambling may prompt Fairwinds to rethink its initial assessment of patients to screen for problems related to betting.

“Often people who gamble often abuse alcohol, tobacco, and drugs and may have other mental health disorders as well,” Wright said. “ I think we need to do better at screening for this as we do for alcohol/drug abuse and suicidal ideation. We need to ask direct questions to the client during our intake and ongoing like ‘do you gamble? How often do you do this each day? Is it having an impact on your life?’ It's important that people are aware of the signs of gambling which could include excessive gambling, preoccupation, lying, and lifestyle changes. The risks of gambling are not spoken about often so many aren’t aware of what could happen.”

According to the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling, some of the most common warning signs for someone getting into trouble with betting include:

  • Spending more money than intended on gambling.
  • Gambling for longer periods of time than intended.
  • Getting into serious financial trouble because of gambling.
  • Lying to cover up gambling losses.
  • Using gambling to escape personal problems and distressing feelings.
  • Thinking about gambling all the time.
  • Being unable to set limits.

“I think we need to do a better job of educating those about the risks of gambling including online esports gambling and more importantly let people know that there is help out there and not to be ashamed about reaching out for help for themselves or a loved one,” Wright said. “Fairwinds clinicians are trained to work with those with addiction. Our staff meet the client where they are at and help them ongoing. All of our clinicians are trained in the Unified Protocol which is similar to DBT/CBT and can offer therapy. We have peer recovery coaches that could help as well. There are also resources online as well as support groups that are helpful. Fairwinds, Nantucket's counseling center is here to help and we encourage those to reach out via phone or text at 508-228-2689 or call crisis at 508-221-3315.”

Massachusetts has also established the “Massachusetts Problem Gambling Helpline” that individuals can call at 1-800-327-5050 or by visiting this link to speak with a trained specialist to receive support. These specialists are available 24/7, and services are available in multiple languages and are free and confidential.

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