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Mass. prepares for underaged, problem gamblers in possible casinos

Although research suggests gambling problems await college students at casinos, any possible casino in Boston will have safeguards to look out for both underaged and problem gamblers, officials said.

If East Boston and Revere approve a casino, college students aged 21 and older might be able to take the T or a taxi to get the area, a short trip for a gambling excursion.

The law forbids anyone under 21 in a casino unless an employee who is at least 18 years old works there.

Research and literature on the impact of casinos on college students has shown that gambling, while it may not negatively affect the majority of college students, can still have adverse consequences for a number of them.

“Today, gambling is seen by many as a bona fide recreational activity — a relatively fun, sexy one at that,” said William Hanson,  assistant educational psychology professor at the University of Alberta whose co-authored article “Problem Gambling on College Campuses” appeared in the National Association of Student Personnel Adminstrators journal in 2009.

College students are “a particularly vulnerable population” to gambling, he said.

Hanson said college students should actively maintain non-gambling hobbies and interests, set strict limits to disposable gambling money and avoid tendency to try to “win back” lost money.

As a graduate student at Mississippi State University in 1997, Jean Dabit, currently a licensed professional counselor, worked on a study explaining the attraction of casinos to college students in Mississippi.

“One of the things that I remember [from doing the study] was the attraction of it, the lights and the sounds,” Dabit said, “and it looks so easy and it gets people excited, and people think that they can win.”

The research found that gambling might affect students’ financial management, academics, alcohol consumption and behavior.

Suffolk Downs, partnered with Caesar’s Entertainment, has been a main license competitor trying to open a casino near the old racetrack where Seabiscuit once competed.

If the Massachusetts Gaming Commission licenses The Resort at Suffolk Downs and the neighboring communities approve it, Boston University students would be able to take the Blue Line there, about an hour-long trip.

Suffolk Downs Chief Operating Officer Chip Tuttle said in an emailed statement that the company was the first track in Massachusetts to partner with the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling for employee-training programs that ensure responsible wagering.

“Suffolk Downs takes the matter of underage gambling seriously and, having been in the gaming business for over 77 years, we have existing measures in place to ensure that only those of a legal age are allowed to wager at our facility,” Tuttle said.

The Gaming Commission, which has yet to finalize casino licenses across the Commonwealth, will ultimately establish the Investigation and Enforcement Bureau to ensure gaming compliance, said Massachusetts Gaming Commission spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll in an email.

“It is incumbent upon the operator to strictly enforce any aspects of the law and/or mandated restrictions,” Driscoll said. “If and when it is determined that a violation has occurred, the operator would be subject to disciplinary action from the Gaming Commission.”

The commission’s bureau and the state police will always be at gaming facilities to ensure compliance and take action on violations, she said.

Visting BU sociology professor Patricia Rieker said it is unlikely that large numbers of students will flock to a casino in East Boston.

“Once you look at the context in which students engage in what I think of as risky behaviors, it doesn’t fit the pattern,” she said.

Although literature suggests casinos have an adverse affect on student drinking, Rieker said some college students already have problem drinking without a casino around.

Students also do not have excess funds to gamble, she said.

“I think [the casino will] affect a small population,” she said. “And you know for the students that are 21, that means that they have or will graduate, so as far as I can see most of them are trying to get jobs at that age.”

Graduate School of Management first-year Cansu Sogut said she would try out the casino with some friends to see how it is maybe once a month.

But the casino could cause gambling problems for college students and reflect poorly on their schools.

Underage students will probably sneak in with fake IDs, she said.

“As is the case with the bars, they might still find some ways of getting in,” she said.

College of Arts and Sciences senior Loren Golubic-Campbell said underage students would definitely try to sneak into a possible casino.

College students already have drinking problems without a casino, she said, and although some people will have gambling problems, it will not be a big problem.

“I think that students will make their own mistakes and they will do as much as they can to make those mistakes if they really want to,” she said.