Thousands of Massachusetts residents are being surveyed as part of multi-year, multi-million dollar research project on the social and economic impacts of introducing casino gambling to the state.
The members of the UMass Amherst led research team say initial results will be reported to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission in September. These findings will be the baseline that will be used to measure changes in problem gambling, domestic violence, housing prices and a host of other socio-economic factors as casinos open over the next one to three years.
Rachel Volberg, a professor at the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences is leading the research project, which is believed to be the first of its kind in the world.
" It is very unusual to start with a clean baseline and watch the changes as they roll out over time and also be able to feed resources in to mitigate harm."
The impact study is mandated in the 2011 state gaming law that legalized casino gambling. The gaming commission awarded a $3.64 million contract to the UMass researchers last year. The research team, which includes experts in several fields from other universities, has spent the past year laying out the parameters of the project and launching the baseline survey.
" It is very complicated, lots of moving parts," said Volberg.
A major part of the research will focus on problem gambling.
"Part of the project that is underway now is an evaluation of the services available to problem gamblers in the state now with an eye to expanding and improving those services over time."
Members of the research team on Tuesday provided an update on the project to Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby and Commissioner Enrigue Zuniga, who said he is pleased with the progress of the research and is looking forward to seeing the initial results.
Crosby said the research will allow the gaming industry regulators in Massachusetts and in other states to make decisions based on hard data and not anecdotes.
"There has not been good research done anywhere in the world on what really happens when you introduce casino gambling to a new jurisdiction."
The gaming commission has licensed a casino with slot machines, but no table games, at a harness racetrack in Plainville. It is expected to open about a year from now.
The commission is on schedule to make a decision by the end of May on awarding a license for MGM Resorts to build an $800 million casino in downtown Springfield. That casino could open in 2017.
The licensing decision for the casino in eastern Massachusetts has been delayed and is not expected until this summer.