Casino gambling has taken the state of Massachusetts on a rollercoaster ride since it joined the ranks of casino states back in 2011. Suffice it to say, Massachusetts’ foray into casino gambling hasn’t produced many dull moments.
First there was the failed 2014 repeal referendum.
There’s the ongoing investigation of Wynn Resorts stemming from alleged sexual assaults by former CEO Steve Wynn.
And the on-again off-again First Light tribal casino.
Throw in a handful of active lawsuits; accusations of malfeasance by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission that resulted in MGC chairman Stephen Crosby’s resignation in September 2018;, and underwhelming revenue at MGM Springfield, and it’s easy to see why headline readers would conclude gambling expansion has been a nightmare in the Bay State.
But that’s not the entire story of gambling in Massachusetts. Hiding among the perceived disappointments and controversies are a number of success stories.
Massachusetts has taken a unique approach to gambling expansion.
The “Massachusetts Model” views gambling revenue as a single piece of a larger puzzle. The ultimate goal is two-fold: to maximize the economic benefits and mitigate the social harms of casino gambling.
Massachusetts developed a three-prong approach to find the right balance:
Massachusetts started collecting data and information before the ink was dry on its gaming law. The state collected pre-casino data on bankruptcies, problem gambling, crime, traffic, and more that can be compared with post-casino data. No other gaming state possessed that type of data.
Here is some reporting on the research that’s been carried out in Plainville, MA and the surrounding area:
The research being carried out by the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health & Health Sciences. The multi-year project is known as Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA).
Learn about MGC's Research Agenda and work researchers at @ImpactsMA are doing to study the social and economic impacts of the expanded gaming industry in Massachusetts. https://t.co/cAO7APX0af pic.twitter.com/eBp0bJTntV
— MA Gaming Commission (@MassGamingComm) March 26, 2019
SEIGMA researchers routinely updates the regulators on their ongoing findings during MGC hearings.
Director Mark Vander Linden is presenting the Commission with a comprehensive update of the MGC's robust research agenda. He is highlighting two studies, funded by the MGC, that examined correlates of at-risk and problem gambling among veterans in Massachusetts.
— MA Gaming Commission (@MassGamingComm) February 14, 2019
Before being considered for a casino license, a company’s proposal had to meet stringent requirements in size and scope. Being approved for one of three licenses required winning over the local community and putting forth the best proposal in the region.
In so doing, local communities were able to negotiate with the casino on everything from revenue sharing to infrastructure investment. on top of the stipends for host communities that were written into the law.
Once again, we can zoom in on Plainville to see if the state has been able to make good on its promises to local communities.
Residents of Plainville can now see, with their own eyes, the benefits of the racino they approved back in 2014.
The town recently put the finishing touches on a $34 million Town Hall and Public Safety Building complex that was entirely paid for by tax revenue from Plainridge Park Casino.
Local press summed up the impact perfectly:
“Plainridge Park Casino in Plainville has brought revenue, employment and spending, though no measurable increase in people seeking treatment for problem gambling, personal bankruptcy filings, divorce and separations or suicides.”
Massachusetts has implemented two cutting-edge pilot programs to help combat problem gambling: PlayMyWay and GameSense.
PlayMyWay is a precommitment program that allows gamblers to set a daily, weekly, or monthly budget. During play, they receive notifications when they reach 50 percent, 75 percent and 100 percent of their allotted budgets. At that point, the machine will ask them if they wish to continue gambling.
— MA Gaming Commission (@MassGamingComm) March 18, 2019
GameSense is an on-site outreach program that offers “judgment-free gambling education to help patrons make informed, responsible decisions about when to gamble, when to stop, and how much to spend.”
DID YOU KNOW: In Massachusetts, each gaming establishment is required by statute to provide on-site space (the GameSense Info Center) for player education. Massachusetts is the only jurisdiction in the country required by law to offer responsible gaming resources onsite. pic.twitter.com/AImqegh6B0
— GameSenseMA (@GameSenseMA) April 8, 2019
The jury is still out on the efficacy of PlayMyWay, but GameSense is having the desired effect on the market.
A recent article from Statehouse News Service noted that after attending a GameSense training session, an MGM host referred a “top-tier player” for problem gambling help.
“Honestly, I cried,” Amy Gabrilla, a senior advisor with the commission’s GameSense program told the Gaming Commission. “Never in my 22 years in this business would I have ever believed that an executive host — a guy who lives off getting people to play, that’s his business — was willing to drop off one of his best accounts to me because he felt it was the right thing to do.”
The article goes on to say that “10 of the last 15 people who have added themselves to the state’s voluntary gaming exclusion list did so after an MGM Springfield staff member referred them to GameSense.”