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Researchers who studied gambling behavior make recommendations to Massachusetts casino regulators

casino slot machines
Paul Tuthill
Slot machines at the MGM Springfield casino prior to its opening in 2018

Final report of six-year study is released

In an effort to better understand how problem gambling develops and evolves, researchers studied the gambling behaviors of the same individuals in Massachusetts over a six-year period beginning in 2013.

The final report on this groundbreaking study was presented Thursday at a meeting of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

The report made seven policy recommendations including limiting gambling advertising, cutting back on alcohol service on the casino floors, and restricting access to ATMs at gambling venues.

WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill spoke with Rachel Volberg, a research professor at the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, who is the study’s co-lead investigator.

Rachel Volberg:

One of the things that that we did take notice of as researchers and in the report as well, was the fact that, in contrast to some of the other jurisdictions where these longitudinal cohort studies have been done, the majority of individuals in Massachusetts who were classified as a problem gambler in any one of the five waves, was was very likely to have been a problem gambler in a previous wave. That was one of the strongest predictors of getting into the group of problem gamblers with having had a gambling problem previously. So and that was the reason for the relatively high relapse rate, in contrast to some other jurisdictions. The one I'm thinking of right now is Sweden, where the majority of new cases that we observed in that study, were actually people who had not had a gambling problem in the past. And were first time problem gamblers.

Paul Tuthill 

Why are problem gamblers in Massachusetts, so prone to relapse?

Rachel Volberg

They tend to be very heavy gamblers. We think that it also has to do with relatively high rates of false beliefs about gambling in amongst Massachusetts problem gamblers. A lot of problem gamblers in Massachusetts, seem to think that gambling heavily as a way to make money. So there's there's a relatively high level of false beliefs, there's relatively high levels of participation. And there's the role of people, family and friends, also, gambling is another important predictor for Problem Gambling in Massachusetts. So it's, it's a sort of broad range of things. It's not any, there's no single thing that sort of makes problem gamblers in Massachusetts unique. It's this sort of suite, or array of different risk factors that we observe. And the array of risk factors is somewhat different in Massachusetts, because of the long term availability of casino gambling, for example, in Connecticut and Rhode Island. So that a lot of the problem gamblers are the people who became problem gamblers in our cohort study, even though there were no casinos in Massachusetts, they were they were pretty regular casino gamblers, because they could get to the casino in Rhode Island and in Connecticut,

Paul Tuthill 

Are the programs that that Massachusetts has put in place in its casinos to promote Responsible Gambling to those are? Are those having an impact?

Rachel Volberg

Well, I think we'll have to wait to see the full evaluation report on gamesense. But I can tell you that it is a pretty unique program in the United States. You know, the the Gaming Commission introduced game since pretty much, you know, from the beginning. So, you know, the casinos were required by statute to set space aside for, you know, for people to be able to seek help if they had a concern about their gambling. So, you know, it, it's not common for a statute to actually have language like that, you know, included. So that gave the Gaming Commission a very powerful tool to be able to implement a program that we do think is, is a, an effective tool.

Paul Tuthill 

What other public policy recommendations have come out of this,

Rachel Volberg

the primary finding that our research team took from this, you know, six years of work, is that it's, there's no silver bullet, there's no single thing that can be done to prevent people from developing a gambling problem. It really takes because it's a very complex disorder. It takes a lot of different ways to try and prevent people from moving down the continuum to more risky places in the continuum, and to help move people who are at the riskiest place in the continuum, you know, down, up into safer places as far as their gambling participation and spending. I hope we were very clear in our our sort of directions for the future. Part of the report at the end, we were we were very clear about the need for integrating Problem Gambling screening into mental health and substance abuse, clinical settings. And there was quite a bit of discussion about that, at the commission meeting, even though the commission itself you know, is not engaged in treatment, they are very interested in how treatment services are being stood up and rolled out in Massachusetts. So, you know, screening and providing treatment are very important, but almost as important because So, few people who experienced a gambling problem actually ever seek professional help, many, many people try to take care of their problem on their own. And part of that is sort of the the stigma and shame that people experience about having, you know, misuse their money. So, we also recommended that there be some consideration of providing online and self-help kinds of materials, so that people can, you know, try to manage their, their gambling issues on their own, if they feel able to, but then also, you know, we need to make sure that people are aware that that treatment is available, so that they can seek that level of help is that's what they feel they want

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.