Massachusetts casino law’s focus on addressing gambling problems has been scaled back, research shows

The state of Massachusetts’ 2011 casino legislation required extensive research into the health and economic impact of the gambling industry. However, the research budget has been declining despite the expansion of gambling, limiting the depth of knowledge on the topic.

In 2013, Massachusetts researchers initiated a groundbreaking study on gambling by contacting 10,000 state residents before any casinos had opened. The study aimed to understand the emergence and resolution of gambling problems over time, using a method called a “cohort study.”

Despite the introduction of casinos in the state, the study found that the prevalence of severe gambling problems remained stable at 2% of the population, with an additional 8% at risk. Notably, many people had already been gambling in other states, which could explain the lack of change in these numbers.

The research also revealed that some individuals switched back and forth between recreational and problematic gambling categories, and fewer people knew where to seek help for their gambling issues over time.

However, the cohort study was discontinued in 2019, after a year of MGM Springfield’s opening, due to its high cost. Massachusetts is often praised for the amount of money it dedicates to gambling research, as it allocates a significant portion of casino revenues to the Public Health Trust Fund. This fund is used to finance research into problem gambling and responsible gaming programs.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which has access to a quarter of the trust fund’s total of $24 million, explained that the declining budget affected the decision to end the cohort study. Despite this, the commission is considering the possibility of reconstituting the study as sports betting gains traction.

There are conflicting views on the allocation of the trust fund, with some arguing that more should go to the commission to support its comprehensive research agenda. Meanwhile, the Department of Public Health receives the rest of the funding for treatment and prevention.

Moving forward, the commission plans to focus on the effects of online gambling, impacts on youth, budgeting tools for sports betting, and the potential implementation of sports betting kiosks in convenience stores.

Ultimately, the hope is that the research findings will inform public health policies and prevention messaging, though the incorporation of these findings into public health efforts in Massachusetts remains unclear.