I could use many words to describe my first experience at the SEIGMA-MAGIC Annual Meeting. A few come to mind: thought provoking, motivating, engaging, and cutting-edge. Personally, however, the most accurate word to capture my experience is ‘humbling.’ As the new project manager on this first of its kind study on the social and economic impacts of expanded gambling, I came to see, first-hand, what the minds of the SEIGMA-MAGIC team do. Frankly, the team is packed with experts on the social and economic impacts of casinos. The passion and dedication of the research team paired with their sophisticated approach to tackling the dynamic and multifaceted nature of casino expansion in Massachusetts combined to show what the creation and execution of a world-class research agenda looks like. On the 11th floor of the Campus Center at UMass Amherst on June 9th, I began to fully appreciate the gargantuan undertaking that is the SEIGMA-MAGIC project. With participation, engagement, and insights from various Commonwealth stakeholders – from the casino operators to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health – the Annual Meeting highlighted the iterative and collaborative character of the SEIGMA-MAGIC project. It was also a day to take account of the SEIGMA-MAGIC team’s many accomplishments and findings over the past year.
The day’s presentations ranged from healthcare costs for pathological gamblers in the Bay State – presented by Associate Professor of Health Policy Management, Rosa Rodriguez-Monguio – to the patron demographics at Plainridge Park Casino – presented by Laurie Salame, JD and lecturer at the Isenberg School of Management. Dovetailing with these presentations, Mark Melnik and Thomas Peake of the UMass Donahue Institute offered a fine-grained glimpse into the economic impacts of Plainridge Park Casino. Rachel Volberg, the Principal Investigator and renowned expert on the social impacts of expanded gambling, shed light on trends in gambling behavior in Massachusetts through MAGIC, the longitudinal cohort study. To cap off the meeting, Rob Williams, Co-Principal Investigator and another leading expert in gambling research, zoomed out and presented on SEIGMA-MAGIC’s strategic planning process for the upcoming year and beyond. Throughout the day, stakeholders from across Massachusetts – including the likes of Victor Oritz, the Department of Public Health’s Director of Problem Gambling Services, Erica Piedade, the Department of Public Health’s Director of Local Public Health Initiatives, and Chairman Stephen Crosby and Commissioner Lloyd MacDonald from the Gaming Commission – made insightful contributions to further propel SEIGMA-MAGIC’s research agenda forward.
Put simply, what a day! To see the care and thoughtfulness that the SEIGMA-MAGIC research team and stakeholders dedicate to better understanding the social and economic impacts of gambling in the Commonwealth was indeed humbling. Coming into this project, I very much anticipated seeing the inner workings of a research team dedicated to improving the lives of Massachusetts residents through empirical research. After the annual meeting, I am even more enthusiastic to be part of the SEIGMA-MAGIC team and look forward to working with all of our stakeholders to inform and drive policy and services throughout the Commonwealth.