The Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) research team from the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at UMass Amherst released a comprehensive report of findings from a large baseline population survey that assessed Massachusetts residents’ attitudes about gambling, gambling participation, and gambling-related problems. Nearly 10,000 Massachusetts residents completed the survey, making it the largest and most representative gambling survey ever conducted in the United States.
The survey is just one piece of the broader SEIGMA study that is unique in obtaining information about gambling involvement and problem gambling prevalence prior to the introduction of casino gambling. The project is part of a legislatively mandated research agenda, which is funded and overseen by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC). Findings from this survey—completed well before any casino or slot machine gambling was available in Massachusetts—will be essential in developing strategies to minimize gambling-related harm.
“The most important point is that we are establishing baseline conditions for every socio and economic variable that might be affected by the introduction of casinos,” said MGC Chairman Steve Crosby. “Our researchers will then track changes in those variables over the entire life of the casinos in order to know to a certainty the consequences and to inform data-driven mitigation strategies for any potential negative consequences.”
SEIGMA Principal Investigator Dr. Rachel Volberg, Research Associate Professor of Epidemiology in the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences, stated, “Not many people realize how unusual it is for a problem gambling survey to be completed before some new type of gambling becomes available. The Commonwealth is fortunate that both the Expanded Gaming Act and the MGC so clearly and forcefully supported such an effort and I am excited to share our findings before any casinos begin operations.”
Data were collected from September 2013 to May 2014. Respondents were randomly selected to participate in the survey and could complete it online, on paper, or by phone. Respondents were asked about their participation in the following gambling activities: lottery games, raffles, sports betting, bingo, casino gambling, betting on horse racing, wagering against others, and online gambling. The survey also asked about respondents’ attitudes toward gambling, gambling-related problems, prevention awareness, and use of available problem gambling services.
Highlights from the survey include: over half of Massachusetts adults (59 percent) perceive the impact of gambling expansion on the state to be neutral, beneficial, or very beneficial while 41 percent perceive the impact to be somewhat or very harmful; in contrast to this, about half of respondents (46 percent) perceive the impact of gambling expansion on their own communities to be harmful while a little over a quarter (28 percent) perceive the impact to be beneficial; and overall, nearly three quarters of Massachusetts residents (72 percent) report participating in at least one gambling activity in the past year.
The SEIGMA Research Team is planning deeper analyses of the data in coming months. These analyses will examine factors that may contribute to or cause problem gambling, relationships between gambling attitudes and gambling participation, and factors associated with particular types of gambling. In addition to this survey, the SEIGMA Research Team has collected a substantial amount of secondary social and health data. All of the data collected by the SEIGMA team will be made public over time.
The SEIGMA team will repeat the survey one year after all of the new gaming facilities have become operational in Massachusetts to measure the impacts of gambling expansion in Massachusetts. Measuring the same behaviors and using the same methods at subsequent points in time will be useful in monitoring changes in attitudes, gambling participation, and problem gambling prevalence in Massachusetts. Results of this and subsequent surveys will be useful in developing data-driven strategies to promote responsible gambling, raise awareness about problem gambling, and design general and targeted prevention and treatment programs for problem gamblers and their families.