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Mass. Gaming Commission studying online casino games, AI use • Rhode Island Current

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The Massachusetts Gaming Commission is trying to get its arms around the technological future of gambling – seeking bids for research into the potential impacts of “iGaming” and the use of artificial intelligence in the gaming industry.

Two requests for proposals rolled out this month as part of the gaming commission’s research agenda. These research priorities, proposed by the Gaming Policy Advisory Council and approved by gaming commissioners, signal potential concerns and expectations for gaming’s evolution in the state – with the commission in the paradoxical position of overseeing an increasingly expansive gambling universe in the state while grappling with the harms of the addictive products.

One RFP looks for an entity to conduct a study “on the impact of iGaming on public health, with particular focus on comparison of participants with participants in other forms of gaming, comorbidity with problem gambling, and impacts on youth under the age of 25 in the Commonwealth.”

Another considers “current and future possible uses of artificial intelligence (AI) in the gaming industry, with a particular focus on marketing, player acquisition, and responsible gaming functionality/player health in the Commonwealth.”

Both the iGaming and AI studies are budgeted for $75,000 – smaller-scale projects when compared to other recent MassGaming studies that have landed in the $100,000 to $150,000 range.

Massachusetts is well into a statewide embrace of gambling, kicked off by casino legalization in 2011 under then-Gov. Deval Patrick and hitting a new scale with the Gov. Charlie Baker-backed push into legalized sports betting. Gov. Maura Healey has picked up the Baker baton in pushing for the state Lottery to include online, or “iLottery,” offerings – supported by the House of Representatives but resisted for years by the state Senate.

As the industry sprawls, and concerns about the impacts of online offerings on young people grow with it, gaming regulators are hoping to get ahead of potential next waves. Of the iGaming bids, a MassGaming spokesperson on Wednesday said the study aims to evaluate the iGaming universe “preemptively.”

“Sports wagering has grown significantly since 2018,” Mark Vander Linden, director of research and responsible gaming for the commission, said in a public meeting last year, as the group discussed its research agenda going forward. “iGaming also is gaining a foothold in the United States.”

iGaming, as explained in the bid documents, is a separate issue from online sports betting. It includes digital variations of popular casino-style games or poker available through websites and mobile apps. Research on the subject is somewhat limited so far, the commission notes, with Rhode Island becoming the latest state to legalize iGaming as of 2023. Seven states allow iGaming generally, though Nevada only allows online poker.

Sports betting, but not other types of online gambling, is prohibited across state lines by the federal Wire Act. Politicians considering online gaming tend to express some unease with its potentially addictive appeal to younger people, and its adoption within states has been slow for those reasons, the bid document notes.

“Site-based gambling as a part of the vacation, as part of the destination, is a very different thing from online,” U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in 2019, “and getting the appropriate restrictions in place so that children don’t have access, so that people who have problems with gambling don’t have access, are challenges that haven’t yet been addressed.”

Vander Linden noted past research, which rolled out as sports betting looked increasingly likely to be legalized, included a number of studies focused on responsible gaming applied to the newly federally permitted industry.

“It was helpful,” he said of the research, “and would have been perhaps even more helpful to the Commonwealth to have an early study on sports wagering dating back to 2018. This is sort of trying to get an understanding of iGaming and potential impacts in Massachusetts.”

The artificial intelligence RFP also looks ahead, drawing on initial work done last year to shape the commission’s approach to AI in gaming by engaging stakeholders on current and future uses of the technology to identify and address those most at-risk of problem gambling – for good or ill.

So far, artificial intelligence is being considered or adopted within the gaming industry for purposes like responsible gambling, marketing, and fraud detection.

“Researchers note that ‘AI is not good or evil itself, it is the use we give to it that can harm or benefit users,’” the bid document notes. “A thoughtful consideration of ethical issues is critical while considering implementation of this technology.

This article first appeared on CommonWealth Beacon and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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