BOSTON (SHNS) – Massachusetts gamblers could benefit from a better understanding of the games they play and the risks involved, and from greater use of strategies like setting a limit before beginning to gamble, a Canadian consultancy reported to the Gaming Commission.

Overall, a study of more than 1,500 gamblers in Massachusetts found that their beliefs and behaviors around responsible gaming are mostly in line with their peers in some other states with legal gambling, but that they are more likely to be less responsible players than those in Canada.

Dr. Richard Wood, a psychologist who specializes in the study of gaming behavior for the firm Gamres, presented the findings from an online survey of 1,512 Massachusetts gamblers, all of whom had gambled in the last 12 months and half of whom had gambled at a Massachusetts casino during that time period.

Wood took the survey results and calculated “positive play scores” across four elements: personal responsibility, gambling literacy, honesty and control, and pre-commitment. About 77 percent of those survey scored high on the personal responsibility metric — meaning they clearly understand the need to gamble only within their means. Another 17 percent of players scored in the medium range, meaning they are mostly positive players but with some room for improvement. Six percent scored low, meaning they are clearly not positive players when it comes to personal responsibility.

Massachusetts players also scored well on the honesty and control metric, Wood said, meaning most players know when it’s time to stop gambling and can control their betting.

But on gambling literacy, just 37.5 percent of Massachusetts players had high positive play scores, while 34.4 percent scored in the medium range and 28.1 percent were assessed as having low gambling literacy. On pre-commitment, which measured the use of strategies like going into the casino with a firm limit on wagers or losses, 58 percent of Massachusetts players scored high, 28 percent scored in the middle and about 14 percent of players ranked in the low category.

“Straight away, we can see that gambling literacy and pre-commitment certainly are areas that would benefit from a little bit more focus going forward,” Wood told the Gaming Commission.

The study found two particular areas of focus for Massachusetts regulators and responsible gaming advocates: young players and people who play several types of games regularly.

Wood found that positive play scores across all four categories increased as the age of players increased, meaning that as players get older they become more responsible, understand the games and the risks better, are better at controlling themselves and do more to set limits before playing.

“We can speculate that as players gamble over time they get more experienced, they learn more about the games and get more exposed to responsible gambling initiatives. And, of course, being young is more of a time, in general, for risk-taking,” he said. “But I think it shows us that having a focus on younger players and using media that would appeal to those players could be a useful way to focus responsible gambling strategy going forward.”

Across all four areas of focus, Wood found that the scores of Massachusetts gamblers were very similar to the scores from players in four other U.S. states where he has conducted the same kind of study. But U.S. gamblers were more likely than Canadian gamblers to score in the medium or low ranges, and it could be related to the amount of money that’s put towards responsible gaming efforts.

“In terms of responsible gaming, I would say that Canada and Scandinavia are really kind of the leaders in terms of responsible gambling, they put a lot of resources into responsible gambling initiatives,” Wood said. “So although this is correlational data, I think there’s some suggestion here that the amount of resources has an impact upon levels of positive play overall.”

Casino revenues in Massachusetts help to fund problem gambling prevention and mitigation programs and services. Five percent of the tax revenue the state collects each month from casinos and the slots parlor is earmarked for a public health trust fund that was created in the 2011 expanded gaming law.

The Gaming Commission uses GameSense as its “comprehensive responsible gaming strategy” and the program includes information centers in each of the state’s gaming facilities and advisors whose interventions range from casual conversations about things like betting odds to more in-depth assistance. The commission also requires that casinos in Massachusetts allow players to put themselves on a self-exclusion list to prohibit themselves from gaming floors for a designated period of time.

Wood recommended that responsible gambling initiatives in Massachusetts should focus on increasing gambling literacy and promoting pre-commitment strategies and that efforts should take a segmented approach because “a one-size-fits-all approach is definitely not optimal.”

Using “social proof” statements — like telling people that 82 percent of Massachusetts players say gambling is not a good way to make money — and explaining how slot machines and casino games function in easy-to-understand videos would be a decent place to start on the literacy front, he said.

The same idea can be deployed to promote pre-commitment, Wood said, as can a strategy called anchoring, where players are told the average amount that a jackpot or other winner bet.

“When you communicate to people what the majority of other people are doing, they can be very persuaded,” Wood said. “People … don’t want to stand out too much. They want to conform … so this can be a very powerful, persuasive way to get players to change their attitudes and behavior. There is also some good evidence to show that videos educating people about how games work can be effective.”

Wood also recommended that Massachusetts and other states get away from using the phrase “responsible gambling” because a lot of people have negative connotations connected to it.

“Many players find it patronizing or they think that it’s irrelevant to them because they think that it’s all about people with gambling problems,” he said. “So we need to think about the more general language around it. So instead of saying things like ‘limit setting’ or ‘budgets,’ which don’t sound like very much fun at all, we could talk about ‘saving my money’ or ‘my bankroll.'”

Mark Vander Linden, director of research and responsible gaming for the Gaming Commission, said the data and analysis Wood presented Thursday dovetails nicely with other research the commission has undertaken and will help to fine-tune the commission’s GameSense program and other efforts.

“We have the components available to us and through the GameSense program,” he said. “How do we do that better? How do we craft that message that takes the components that already exist, move it, shift it a little bit, so that it becomes more effective and in a way that is measurable? That, to me, is a really valuable piece of what we’ll be able to take from this. We’re not going lightyears ahead and introducing entirely new programs, we’re talking about incremental changes along the way to become the best program we can.”