Gaming Commission continues research on casino impact

(Frédéric BISSON / Flickr)

By Patrick Lovett
Boston University Statehouse Program

This article was originally published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

BOSTON — Although it’s too soon to project the economic impact of the MGM Springfield casino, a researcher told the state Gaming Commission Thursday there has been a slight improvement in the real estate market surrounding the Plainridge Park Casino since it opened in 2015.

But Henry Renski, a professor of regional planning at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, cautioned that other factors in southeastern Massachusetts could have affected that study.

“There’s so much going on in the region, with the Wrentham Outlets, Patriot Place an exit away, the Xfinity Center … this casino doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” he said. “We found that the casino complements other destinations in the area. Together, they become a magnet.”

The study will be used as a template for how future research will be conducted and released on the MGM casino that opened in Springfield on Aug. 24, said Rachel Volberg, the principal investigator of Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA), a roughly 15-person team funded by the commission to study the social and economic impacts of gambling in Massachusetts.

“We’ve already begun to study MGM,” said Volberg. “And I expect we’ll have enough data to publish a report in about a year, but it’s not going to stop there. We’re going to continue to monitor impact and report on it.”

Since 2013, the group has worked to gain a developed understanding of how new gambling and entertainment centers affect safety, employment, housing, behavior, and other factors.

In 2015, SEIGMA started releasing profiles on every community that was going to host a casino. The reports marked Springfield as an economic hub of western Massachusetts, with declining property value and an unemployment rate of 11.1 percent.

MGM Springfield has seen about 25,000 visitors daily and 50,000 visitors on weekends, according to a Gaming Commission report. It took in $9,456,976.90 in gross gaming revenue by the end of its first month.

Whether this activity is positive for the surrounding community is still up for review.

“We can’t go into this with any assumptions,” said Mark Vander Linden, director of research and responsible gaming in Massachusetts. “It’s important to avoid expectations so we can really find what the greatest impacts are.”

During the meeting, members of SEIGMA and commissioners discussed the purpose and usage of the research.

“We are really most focused on the question of ‘Now what?’” said Vander Linden. “We want to be able to use this research to make changes if we find they are needed.”

According to Volberg, SEIGMA’s research is the first of its kind. It will capture the effect of the gambling industry as it is introduced to a new environment. Volberg and her colleagues said more data will clarify the extent of casino impact.

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