Editorial, Opinion

EDIT: Gambling with Research

In November, Massachusetts voters gave consent for the Commonwealth to continue its development of casinos. Now, the state is looking for ways to solve the issues that have plagued the gambling industry for years.

The Boston Globe reported on Sunday that the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, through a partnership with the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, would be sponsoring two studies throughout the course of Massachusetts’ casino development. The first study, called the Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts, will start before the first slot casino opens in Summer 2015 and will measure the Commonwealth’s attitude toward gambling and the gambling habits of residents. The same questions will be asked in 2018, once casinos have become established within the state.

“We are doing this very large survey before any casinos become operational and then waiting,” principal investigator Rachel Volberg told the Globe. “We will go out into the field with an identical survey a year after all of the casinos have opened — which gives us a snapshot before and a snapshot after, on problem gambling prevalence and gambling participation.”

The second study, titled the Massachusetts Gambling Impact Cohort, will follow 2,600 residents for the next five years to study what happens to individuals in the state as casinos open and become a part of the Commonwealth’s economy. By tracking the changing habits, attitudes and lifestyle changes altered by gambling in the state, the study hopes to provide substantial evidence for lawmakers to develop legislation that prevents problem gambling.

The cohort study “focuses on getting a better understanding about how problem gambling starts, develops, and resolves over time,” Volberg told The Boston Globe. “To do that you really need to follow individuals, rather than taking a population snapshot.”

Together, these studies will cost about $4 million, a hefty sum that will be derived from the taxes and fees imposed on the casino industry. The studies were explicitly required by the casino bill, passed in 2011 and reapproved in 2014, which legalized Las Vegas-style gambling within the Commonwealth.

These studies have the potential to be incredibly beneficial to the Commonwealth as it adopts casinos into its economy. Problem gambling has been the ruin of many people living in and around gambling capitals, such as Las Vegas and Atlantic City, New Jersey. If Massachusetts is able to identify some of these problems in its own residents, it may have found the successful formula for casinos.

This preventative measure is valuable in that it will examine potential gambling problems before they even happen. Although it may be unlikely, if researchers can find supporting evidence that predicts gambling issues that may arise, legislation can be passed to counteract those problems before the first casino resorts open in about three years. Furthermore, by following the changes in real individuals as the gaming industry grows in Massachusetts, researchers can better understand the psychological impacts gambling has on people, and that information can be used in other states looking to grow or launch gambling communities.

It’s hard to say if these studies will actually have a huge impact on state policies regarding gambling. Voters have already approved of Las Vegas-style gambling in Massachusetts, and creating laws to restrict such an intense form of gaming would likely be difficult to develop. Still, the effort to study problem gambling is honest, and the results could elicit valuable awareness of the issues associated with gambling and gambling communities, which will now call the Commonwealth home.

While many predict that gambling will have detrimental effects on the Commonwealth and fear that big business will prevail at the expense of residents’ well being, by conducting this research, it is clear that Massachusetts cares about its residents. The government would not sink $4 million into such research if it had no use for it, and if used correctly, the findings could influence policy, or at the very least, create a better understanding of gambling addiction.

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