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As sports betting takes off, Connecticut doesn’t require betting operators to share problem gambling data

Man losing his money in the casino
sanjeri / Getty Images
Man losing his money at the casino.

The state of Connecticut requires operators of sports betting and online casino gaming to make tools available to players who want to bet responsibly. The operators – the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, the Mohegan Tribe, and the Connecticut Lottery – are also obligated to offer gamblers a way to formally opt out of betting.

But the state doesn’t require those operators to collect or share data on how people are making use of these problem gambling tools.

Some lawmakers hope they will.

“The whole point to me was that if internet gaming is generating better data about problems, we're going to be able to take advantage of that and help people,” said Democratic state Rep. Maria Horn, co-chair of the state’s public safety and security committee. She also said she supported legalized gambling in part because operators told her it offered an increased ability to catch problems as they develop.

The state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services has to complete a study on the effects of legalized gambling in the state by Aug. 1, 2023. The study will inform lawmakers on whether the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling needs more resources.

Groups say they're committed to working with state

While state law doesn’t require operators to submit problem gambling data to the state, Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, said he’s committed to “sharing pertinent data” with the state.

“We will work in collaboration with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services as they collect information for the study commissioned in Public Act No. 22-118, and share what information we can without jeopardizing the proprietary nature of our business operations,” Butler said in a written statement. “The form and substance of that information will be determined over time.”

In Connecticut, consumers bet through platforms run by vendors sublicensed to take bets on behalf of the operators. Tools to promote responsible gaming, like deposit limits, are available to players via the betting app.

DraftKings, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation’s sports betting and online casino gaming partner, collects data on problem gambling tools offered to the public but says it doesn’t share player-specific data.

The Connecticut Lottery and its sports betting partner Rush Street Interactive say they’ll work with the state on the survey once they know more about it.

“Under the existing state statutes and regulations, the CT Lottery is not the agency tasked with maintaining comprehensive data on problem gambling and problem gamblers,” said Tara Chozet, CT Lottery director of public relations and social media. “RSI, similar to its competitors in the market, does not release proprietary data specific to its app and website usage.”

And the Mohegan Tribe said it’s committed to working with the state on the study. The CEO of Mohegan Gaming said officials will cooperate while maintaining the confidentiality of their players. A spokesperson for FanDuel said it tracks usage of its responsible gaming tools on behalf of the Mohegan Tribe. But sharing it is a different matter.

“We’ll have to get together collectively as all of the suppliers together and say, ‘Here are the things we are comfortable sharing broadly as an industry,’” Anika Howard, president of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation’s gaming operation, told Connecticut Public in January.

Democratic state Sen. Cathy Osten said she expects problem gambling data to be included in the study.

“I’m not worried at all,” said Osten, who is Horn’s co-chair on the legislature’s public safety and security committee.

Both Osten and Horn said they’ve been reassured that the Mashantucket Pequots, the Mohegans and the Connecticut Lottery will have problem gambling data for them when the study is complete.

Turning over data

Privacy and competition are reasons that data is traditionally hidden from public view. That’s according to Alan Feldman, a distinguished fellow in responsible gaming at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“Why would any one company want to turn over its data? Now you know exactly which company it is,” Feldman said. “If you're studying that, competitors will know who it is.”

Feldman, who spent 30 years in the gambling industry, said it’s probably better for operators and vendors to share problem gambling data that’s been “cleaned up” — disaggregated and stripped of personally identifiable information.

That’s what’s happening in New Jersey, he said. On behalf of the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, Rutgers University studies the prevalence of online and land-based gambling in that state. The most recent study was completed earlier this year, but the findings haven’t been released yet. Back in 2017, the research team at Rutgers’ Center for Gambling Studies learned that 70% of New Jersey residents surveyed gambled in the past year. The survey also found that problem gambling rates were highest with people identifying as Hispanic and that most high-frequency gamblers bet both online and in person.

“Problem gambling severity was highest in the mixed group (land‐based and online), followed by online‐only and land‐based only gamblers,” the report concluded.

DraftKings and Mohegan vendor FanDuel contribute to that report. The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement said that each online gaming operator in the state fulfilled the state’s data submission requirement. The New Jersey Casino Control Act requires licensees there to pay for any costs associated with the preparation and distribution of the New Jersey gambling study.

As for the local gambling study, the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services may work with a contractor to research the effects of legalized gambling on Connecticut residents. A request for proposals hasn’t gone out.

‘Not everybody who runs into problems uses those tools’

Connecticut operators offer problem gambling tools to users.

The Connecticut Lottery said partner Rush Street Interactive offers customers things like time limits, spending limits, deposit limits and self-exclusion through its PlaySugarHouse app. Self-exclusion and a temporary account shutdown for gamblers that hit a $2,500 limit on losses are in place for customers betting through the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. And FanDuel, a partner of the Mohegan Tribe, offers customers the ability to set wager limits, maximum wager limits, deposit limits and time limits.

Dr. Sarah Nelson, director of research for the Division on Addiction at a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, has been looking at gambling data since 2005. Around that time, Harvard began a 10-year relationship with European sports betting operator bwin. Nelson said it was one of the first analyses of player gambling records.

“They were really proactive in terms of understanding the larger picture and really understanding that we're going to have these subscribers and these users no matter what and it's better to know what's going on and be able to identify that early and kind of work with those individuals,” Nelson said.

Nelson believes that data submission and collection is crucial because she said people are “notoriously bad” at self-reporting gambling habits and wins and losses. One tool that seemed to be a marker for problem gambling was voluntary self-exclusion, she said.

“People run into problems, and they use that tool to stop themselves. Not everybody who runs into problems uses those tools,” Nelson said. “In fact, it's a very small minority.”

The thing about the tools offered by operators to combat problem gambling, according to Nelson, is that they work best for gamblers who aren’t necessarily problem gamblers.

“I think the tools are better used for at-risk gamblers, whereas people truly experiencing problems — if there's a way to kind of intervene, and ask them questions about their behavior and get them kind of referred to resources that can help them, that's the best for them,” Nelson said.

She says she hasn’t seen a model or algorithm yet that can tell her whether someone is a problem gambler – just a player using a tool who may be at-risk.

You can’t yet identify problem gamblers based on data, said Feldman, the UNLV responsible gaming expert.

“There's no silver bullet looking at data on a computer," Feldman said. "The only way that we can credibly identify problem gamblers [is] in a clinical setting with a trained clinician who can diagnose this.

"It's a mental disorder,” he said. “We can’t ignore that.”

The data we do have …

A 24-hour responsible gaming hotline in Connecticut has been inundated with inquiries since sports betting and online casino gaming were introduced last fall.

The latest figures from the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling show that calls, texts, and chats to its helpline were up 159% in April compared to April 2021. February’s year-over-year numbers were more stark: a 271% increase.

But the reason given for this isn’t primarily that people are problem gambling. It’s that people want help gambling. A council spokesperson said it’s experiencing heavy volume on the helpline because customers want help with their accounts.

“Currently our helpline is receiving a large amount of calls/chats of individuals frustrated by customer service issues with their gaming accounts,” said Paul Tarbox, the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling’s manager of public policy and communications. “This is stretching our resources to help individuals who are impacted by gambling related harms.”

One figure available is enrollment in a state-run gambling-specific treatment program called Bettor Choice. A spokesperson for the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services said the number of clients presenting for treatment into the program has “remained consistent” going back to before the launch. Figures do show an increase in the number of Bettor Choice clients: from 173 in July 2021 to 192 in May.

And there are numbers related to self-exclusion. The Department of Consumer Protection reported that as of June 8, more than 970 state residents had elected to formally opt out since the expansion.

By law, each operator gives money to local problem gambling efforts. The Mohegan Tribe and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation support the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling as part of their contributions. The Connecticut Lottery contributes to the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services’ Chronic Gamblers Treatment and Rehabilitation Fund.

Gamblers in Connecticut may reach out to the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling hotline for help at 1-888-789-7777. The council also has an online chat set-up at ccpg.org.

Frankie Graziano is the host of The Wheelhouse, focusing on how local and national politics impact the people of Connecticut.

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