The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) has selected a School of Public Health and Health Sciences (SPHHS) research team to perform a comprehensive, multi-year $3.64 million research project, believed to be the first of its kind, on the economic and social impacts of introducing casino gambling in Massachusetts. It will focus particularly on problem gambling, but also examine a wide array of social and economic effects of expanded gambling in Massachusetts.
Funding is expected to start with a one-year contract followed by a three-year extension. Epidemiologist Rachel Volberg and biostatistician Edward Stanek will lead the multi-disciplinary, multi-phase study for UMass Amherst. Volberg has studied gambling and problem gambling, which affects an individual’s personal, family and work life as an addiction, for more than 25 years. She is the author of the 2001 book, “When the Chips are Down–Problem Gambling in America.”
She says, “Only a handful of institutions are carrying out gambling research worldwide. With this sweeping new initiative, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission will change the intellectual landscape and knowledge base about gambling over the next three to five years. No other jurisdiction has undertaken such a comprehensive study prior to introducing casino gambling, and none has worked to collect social and economic indicators as the casinos became operational. Our results will be freely available to other researchers and state commissions, who can then begin their own appropriate studies. This is going to create a very important database resource for stakeholders in Massachusetts and elsewhere.”
The state Expanded Gaming Act requires that the commission establish an “annual research agenda” to understand the social and economic effects of expanded gaming in the Commonwealth. The UMass Amherst project will create a monitoring system to provide a neutral database for analysis and decision-making, generate early detection markers of changes in social and economic impacts, promote responsible gambling and mitigate problem gambling through strategic services.
After the gaming commission has identified towns that will receive newly licensed casinos, over the next five years Volberg, Stanek and colleagues will use a variety of tools such as community and patron surveys, baseline demographic information, census and labor statistics and socio-economic indicators to collect information for their analyses.
These will include a very large (sample size 10,000) baseline survey of state residents before any licenses are granted, an online survey of 5,000 state residents, targeted surveys of residents within a 25-mile radius of each of the new gaming venues, and collection of secondary data such as labor statistics. The team will also formally evaluate problem gambling treatment services in Massachusetts. Looking at greater New England, they will assess formal treatment and in/outpatient programs available to problem gamblers and their families.
Volberg says Massachusetts’ gaming act is unique in requiring an annual research agenda be carried out to help understand the social and economic effects of casino gambling on people and institutions and to minimize possible harmful effects, as the Bay State’s statute does. It also establishes a Gaming Policy Advisory Committee to assist the commission in making yearly, scientifically based recommendations to the legislature to attempt to avert gambling problems or address them if they become apparent.
Commissioner Enrique Zuniga says, “This research mandate is an opportunity to create a nearly unique, comprehensive, longitudinal, academic-quality study and series of studies regarding the socio- and economic impacts of introducing expanded gaming to a governmental jurisdiction. All of the research will be designed to not only assess these impacts, but to guide and assess remediation strategies for the potential negative effects.”
Marlene Warner, executive director of the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, says, “The commission’s strong commitment to researching gambling and problem gambling’s impact in the Commonwealth is not only highly commendable, but it is also cutting-edge. This is the first study of this magnitude in the United States. It will provide solid and important data to inform problem gambling services and policy, within Massachusetts, and with similar programs in the United States and abroad.”
Other members of the research team from UMass Amherst are Krishna Poudel, Rosa Rodriguez-Monguio and Martha Zorn of SPHHS, with Laurie Salame of Hospitality and Tourism Management. In addition, Robert Williams of the University of Lethbridge, Alberta; Dan Hodge, Rebecca Loveland, Lindsay Koshgarian, Carrie Bernstein and John Gaviglio from the UMass Donahue Institute are part of the team, with Natasha Schull of MIT and Mark Nichols of the University of Nevada, Reno.
Surveys and other primary data will be collected by NORC at the University of Chicago, Ipsos USA Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., and Market Street Research of Northampton.
Photos: Rachel Volberg and Edward Stanek