Scope of Massachusetts Casino Law’s Gambling Problem Research Reduced

Massachusetts passed a casino legislation in 2011 that required research into the health and economic effects of the gambling industry, but the research budget has been declining even as gambling has expanded, leaving the knowledge limited. The state launched a landmark study in 2013 contacting 10,000 people before any casinos were open using a “cohort study” method to follow individuals over time. About 3,000 people from the original study agreed to be contacted again a couple years later, and researchers found that the introduction of casinos in the state did not significantly affect gambling behavior.

The research also found that over time, fewer people knew where or how to get help for their gambling problems. In 2019, the study was ended five years into the cohort without following the introduction of sports betting. Massachusetts is often hailed as a model for the funds it dedicates to gambling research. Only 15 states reported doing any research at all. States are left to come up with their own plans and budgets. Keith Whyte, who heads the National Council on Problem Gambling, said most states avoid gambling research, but Massachusetts actually required studies into problem gambling using a portion of casino revenues.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission said the trust fund has a total of $24 million, and the commission has access to a quarter of that amount for research and responsible gaming programs. Funding was only one reason they ended the cohort study, which had cost just under $1 million a year. Massachusetts is considering a research agenda focusing on the effects of online gambling, impacts on youth, budgeting tools for sports betting, and what could happen if convenience stores are allowed to have sports betting kiosks. The research hopes to inform public health policy and be incorporated into prevention messaging and information about the availability of treatment. The Department of Public Health gets the rest of the funding, which ranges between $11 and 18 million for treatment and prevention.