UMass Amherst Researchers Provide Update on Statewide Gambling Studies

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AMHERST, Mass. – Researchers from the Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) study and the Massachusetts Gambling Impact Cohort (MAGIC) study led by the University of Massachusetts Amherst today updated progress to date on a number of studies in their annual meeting at the Campus Center.

Representatives of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which selected UMass Amherst’s research team to carry out the studies, and from the Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Lottery and the licensed casino operators in the state, among others, heard updates from professor Rachel Volberg of the School of Public Health and Health Sciences (SPHHS), an expert in gambling and problem gambling and the principal investigator for both studies.

She discussed, for example, progress on an investigation into the health care costs of pathological gamblers in Massachusetts; a study of the Plainridge Park Casino Patron and License Plate Survey; a study of Plainridge Park Casino’s first year of operations; preliminary analyses from MAGIC Wave 2, and work highlights to expect from each in the coming year. Findings must be peer-reviewed before they will be finalized and reported to the Gaming Commission later.

The SEIGMA and MAGIC studies provide a research agenda, monitoring system and data to support evidence-based decision making. The projects also will generate early detection markers of changes in the social and economic impacts of expanded gambling, offering ways to promote responsible gambling and address problem gambling with strategic services.

The studies fulfill Section 71 of the 2011 Expanded Gaming Act, which requires the Gaming Commission to establish “an annual research agenda” to assist in understanding the social and economic effects of the introduction of casino gambling in Massachusetts, and in making annual scientifically-based recommendations to the state Legislature. Volberg says Massachusetts’ gaming act is unique in requiring an annual research agenda for these purposes.

For this multi-year research project, the first of its kind in the nation, Volberg and colleagues are using a variety of data collection techniques, including community and patron surveys, baseline demographic information, census and labor statistics and socio-economic indicators.

The study uses a state-of-the-art design, rigorous data collection and research methods and a careful analytic approach to establish the effects of casino gambling at state, regional and local levels. The multi-disciplinary research team gathers and assesses data, for example collecting information about job creation, economic development and tax revenues as well as gambling’s public health impacts.

For MAGIC, a longitudinal cohort study, Volberg and colleagues are interviewing a group of over 3,000 people once a year over a number of years. The cohort includes people who have never gambled and people who gamble regularly. Participant responses will be used to track changes in gambling attitudes and behaviors over time and to identify factors that influence these changes, including new casinos opening in Massachusetts.

Policy makers and regulators will use results from both studies to create policies that maximize the possible benefits and minimize the possible harms of expanded gambling in the Commonwealth. 

In addition to Volberg, other members of the research team at UMass Amherst are Rosa Rodriguez-Monguio, Ed Stanek, Vivian Cronk, Valerie Evans, Alissa Mazar, and Martha Zorn of SPHHS, Laurie Salame of hospitality and tourism management and Henry Renski from landscape architecture and regional planning.

On the economic analysis team from the Donahue Institute are Mark Melnik, Rebecca Loveland, Carrie Bernstein, Rod Motamedi, Andrew Hall and Thomas Peake, with Mark Nichols from the University of Nevada Reno. Robert Williams of the University of Lethbridge, Alberta is also a member of the research team.