Report: No boost found in problem gambling from MGM Springfield

  • The MGM Springfield casino’s logo decorates the front facade on Main Street in Springfield. AP FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 10/16/2020 3:36:38 PM
Modified: 10/16/2020 3:36:27 PM

SPRINGFIELD — Two years after MGM Springfield became the first resort-style casino in the state, data and surveys indicate that the region and city have seen economic benefits without a corresponding increase in problem gambling or at-risk gamblers, according to reports issued this week by researchers at the University of Massachusetts.

The findings, from what is called the Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) group, show that the casino, which opened in August 2018, has stimulated the local and statewide economy and increased job and educational opportunities for a diverse workforce.

At the same time, based on interviews with employees at the casino, area residents and people who have gambled at the casino, there has been no increase in problem gambling, which public health researchers would typically expect after the introduction of a casino.

“We were somewhat surprised at the lack of change in the rate of problem gambling in the local area, although that finding certainly made sense when we took into account the likely long-term exposure to casino gambling due to the casinos that have been operating in Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York for over 20 years,” Rachel Volberg, principal investigator of the SEIGMA study and a research professor in the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, wrote in an email to the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

The results of four reports, all using data from before the COVID-19 pandemic, were released Wednesday as researchers with SEIGMA presented a public webinar titled “Springfield’s Two Years as a Casino Host: Looking Back and Looking Forward.”

The executive summary for the report “Impact of MGM Springfield on Gambling Attitudes, Participation and Problem Gambling” states “there was no change in the prevalence of at-risk and problem gambling between 2015 and 2019 among residents of Springfield and surrounding communities.”

“Lengthy exposure means harmful effects may have abated over time, even in a population that has experienced recent local expansion,” Volberg said.

The reports are part of an ongoing, comprehensive investigation into the impact of introducing casino gambling to a community. The researchers previously found that problem gambling also did not increase after the Plainridge Park Casino opened in Plainville in 2015.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has awarded $1 million per year over the next three years to continue this investigation.

Volberg said the next areas of focus will be the economic impacts of COVID-19 on the casino industry in the state and the burden of other gambling harms — which is more broad than problem gambling alone — on the state’s population. In addition, SEIGMA will conduct a survey of patrons of Encore Boston Harbor and report on the economic impacts of its construction.

Meanwhile, in its first year of operation, MGM Springfield directly created 2,538 jobs paying $85.2 million, said Thomas Peake, senior research analyst at the UMass Donahue Institute, which is responsible for economic and fiscal impact research for SEIGMA.

Statewide, spending by the casino on both wages and vendors supported a total of 6,287 net jobs and $356.9 million in personal income.

“MGM did do a good job of hiring locally, and they hired quite a diverse workforce with a significant number of people who had been unemployed or underemployed previously,” Volberg said.

The researchers also discovered that MGM visitors accounted for $66.3 million in new off-site spending.

“One of the big findings we have is that 61.7 percent of patron spending was new to the state and would not have occurred had it not been for the casino,” Peake said.

Other highlights from the reports included that MGM Springfield’s payments to government entities totaled $110.1 million, and that the percentage of patrons with the lowest household incomes, under $30,000, spent proportionally more on gambling compared to their prevalence in the general adult population of Massachusetts.

Though about 59 percent of casino patrons came from Massachusetts, with almost all of the remainder from nearby states, the non-residents accounted for 42.5 percent of the $259 million in gambling revenue at MGM Springfield from October 2018 to September 2019, while also contributing 37.5 percent of the $83 million in non-gambling revenue.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.




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