Gambling problems were a central focus of Massachusetts’ casino law research, but scope has been limited

In 2011, Massachusetts passed a casino legislation that required research into the health and economic effects of the industry. However, despite the expansion of gambling, the research budget has been decreasing, limiting the body of knowledge on the subject. One landmark study initiated in 2013 involved contacting 10,000 people in the state before any casinos were open. UMass Amherst professor Rachel Volberg, who leads the state’s current gambling research, emphasized the significance of following the same people over time to understand the development and resolution of gambling problems.

The research discovered that 2% of the state’s population had severe gambling problems, while another 8% were at risk. Despite the introduction of casinos, these numbers did not change significantly, as many people were already gambling in other states. However, the research revealed that some individuals switched back and forth between recreational and problematic gambling categories.

The study was set to continue for five years, but it was discontinued in 2019, just one year after MGM Springfield opened. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which has access to a portion of the Public Health Trust Fund for research and responsible gaming programs, reasoned that the study had become costly and the number of participants was declining with each new survey.

While the study’s end was disappointing, Massachusetts is recognized for devoting a significant amount of money to gambling research compared to other states. The debate over who controls the research funding continues, with the Department of Public Health receiving a significant portion for treatment and prevention. Despite the challenges, there are plans for new research agendas that focus on areas such as online gambling, impacts on youth, and budgeting tools for sports betting. The hope is that the findings from these studies will help inform public health policy and prevention messaging.