To reduce problem gambling once casinos and slot parlors open in the state, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) is considering a program that would allow gamblers to voluntarily set limits for how much and how long they can bet.
Similar programs are in place in New Zealand, Singapore, Norway, Sweden and Canada. Australia has piloted a limiting system in four of its states and Massachusetts would be the first of its kind in the U.S.
“Settling limits on activities which might get us in trouble is a reasonable and commonplace activity,” MGC chairman Stephen Crosby said in a letter sent this month to the state’s three casino operators.
But the state’s recently licensed casino companies—Wynn Resorts, MGM Resorts International and Penn National Gaming—have expressed concerns over the proposal, suggesting “such programs have not proved effective elsewhere.”
“There could be potentially many unintended consequences from what we believe to be good policy for the general public,” said Robert DeSalvio, president of Wynn Massachusetts, who is overseeing Wynn’s $1.6 billion casino project in Everett.“If we make the experience difficult, cumbersome or embarrassing for our slot customers, I do worry that they will make another choice and go somewhere else.”
“It has failed,” said Alan Feldman, an executive vice president for MGM, which is building an $800 million resort in Springfield.
Penn National Gaming, which building a $225 million slots parlor at the harness racing track in Plainville and the first gambling facility to open in the state, may serve as the guinea pig in this case.
The executives also objected to a recommendation that the casinos provide incentives to customers who sign up for the voluntary program and stick to their predetermined limits.
In relation to state’s prevention of problem gambling, the MGC announced, on Friday, its partnership with the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences to conduct a multi-year study to examine how gambling problems develop over time and thus illuminate the causes of problem gambling. The research project, known as the Massachusetts Gambling Impact Cohort (MAGIC) study, will have important value as it will highlight factors critical to developing strategic and data-driven problem gambling prevention, treatment and recovery support services in Massachusetts.
The cost of the first year of the study is estimated at $963,000 and will be launched later this month, with its first wave of data collection taking place in January 2015. The data will be collected annually.