SEIGMA Survey Flawed re Online Poker in Massachusetts

MassachusettsA survey conducted by the University of Massachusetts has projected a market in excess of 12,000 players if online poker was regulated in the Bay State.

Massachusetts has been widely touted as one of the next wave of states to regulate online poker and, if the results of a survey conducted by the University of Massachusetts are to be believed, regulation would result in a massive database of online poker players.

The projection of more than 12,000 poker players was made in the report “Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts”(SEIGMA), which used data collected from almost ten thousand respondents to assess gambling behavior and problem gambling prior to any of the Bay State´s new casinos became operational.

Forming part of a legislatively-mandated research agenda – funded and overseen by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission – the role of the survey was to be a baseline from which to develop policies to cope with problem gambling before the expansion of gambling in Massachusetts took place.

Key Findings of the Survey

The headline conclusion of the survey was that nearly three quarters of Massachusetts residents (72%) admitted to participating in at least one gambling activity in the past year – the majority of these being lottery players – and that 22% of the respondents went out of state to gamble in neighboring casinos.

More than half of Massachusetts residents (59%) were either neutral about the expansion of legalized gambling in Massachusetts or believed it would be “beneficial” or “very beneficial”. However, almost three-quarters of those who responded (72%) were either neutral or against having gambling venues in their communities.

In relation to online gambling (which is currently a grey area in Massachusetts), just 89 of the 9,578 respondents admitted to betting over the Internet. According to the survey´s results (Appendix D, Table 48), the largest group of online gamblers bet on sports, and only fifteen residents of Massachusetts admitted to playing online poker.

Flaws with SEIGMA Projections

Based on the answers given by respondents, the survey´s researchers projected that – if [geolink href=””]online poker in Massachusetts[/geolink] was regulated – there would be a player database of 12,782 (give or take 30% by their own admissions). Their calculations were based upon the 15 respondents from the total of 9,578 respondents, multiplied to represent the population of Massachusetts.

It was also noticeable that fewer than five respondents admitted to visiting online casinos – leading researchers to predict that “only” 4,500 Bay State residents would use an online casino facility if legislation allowing it was passed. Based on evidence from New Jersey, where online casino revenues outstrip poker revenues by five-to-one, the two comparative predictions would appear wildly inaccurate.

If the researchers at SEIGMA projected their statistics relating to problem gamblers and at-risk gamblers in the same way as online poker and casinos, that would imply that there are 107,000 problem gamblers in Massachusetts and nearly 475,000 at-risk gamblers in Massachusetts – one year before the first casino opens its doors!

The More Likely Picture in Massachusetts

The more likely picture in Massachusetts is that there would be an average database of less than 200 online poker players – our predictions based on the population of Massachusetts in comparison to the population of New Jersey. It also has to be considered that New Jersey has a rich history of gambling, while Massachusetts lawmakers have traditionally been opposed to gambling – until they found out they could tax it!

With such a low online potential, it makes you wonder whether many brick and mortar casino operators will be willing to jump through hoops and pay massive license fees to gain a foothold in a minor market such as Massachusetts. Even if interstate compacts were formed (they were proposed in failed legislation in 2013 and 2014), casinos still might not want to get involved unless they had an existing operation in a partner state.

Lawmakers have indicated that they have no interest in discussing proposals for online poker in Massachusetts until the impact of the current expansion of gambling has been assessed. This implies that it may not be until 2017/2018 before legislation gets passed to regulate online poker in Massachusetts – but which time researchers at the University of Massachusetts may have got their sums right!

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett