First Major Study of Gambling Behavior in Massachusetts Sites Social, Economic Impact

By Joshua Resnek

A multi year study examining the social and economic impact of gambling in Massachusetts has examined an array of effects.

This is a almost 5 year study commissioned by the Gaming Commission studying the same individuals over time and providing information on how gambling and problem gambling develops , progresses and how individuals may experience remission.

“This has significant value as it can highlight risk and protective factors important in developing effective prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery support services,” epidemiologist Rachel Volberg notes.

One interesting finding is “the apparent ease with which people move in and out of problem gambling status within a given year,” the lead author points out. “It’s pretty clear that people phase in and out of the problem gambling group. This movement is different than the way problem gambling has been characterized in the past. Until recently, the general orientation has been that disordered gambling is an unremitting chronic condition.” According to the report, only 49.4 percent of individuals who were Problem or Pathological Gamblers in Wave 1 were in this same category in Wave 2, with sizeable portions transitioning into At-Risk Gambling and Recreational Gambling. At-Risk Gamblers were the most unstable members of the cohort, with only 37.5 percent being in the same category in both waves. Most of these individuals transitioned to Recreational Gambling, but a significant minority transitioned to become Problem or Pathological Gamblers.

Volberg adds, “We’ve seen this movement in studies done in other jurisdictions, but this will be news to some researchers who are used to thinking of problem gambling as a progressive and chronic disorder.”

The study found problem gambling incidence in Massachusetts, at 2.4 percent, to be high compared to studies elsewhere. The authors point out, however, that those other studies have different “gambling landscapes,” used different measures of problem gambling and had shorter follow-up periods.

The report was compiled during the pre-casino period in Massachusetts.

The report notes that the cause of the high incidence rate is unclear given that there was no significant change in the actual availability of legal gambling opportunities in Massachusetts during this time period. Researchers suggest that post-casino cohort survey data will shed additional light on the incidence rate in Massachusetts.

In the report’s executive summary implications of the research and future directions are examined.

“Results from the Massachusetts cohort study suggest that the incidence of problem gambling may be relatively high, despite the fact casinos are not yet operating in the Commonwealth. If true, it would indicate that additional prevention and treatment resources for the state are required,” it was reported in the study.

“The results also suggest that remission from problem gambling is quite high. If true, then additional treatment resources may be especially beneficial in accelerating such transitions.”

The report is officially titled, “The Massachusetts Gambling Impact Cohort Study. It was done by SEIGMA, Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts and was done under the auspices of the University of Massachusetts School of Public Health and Sciences.

It is available on the official website of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

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