Casinos to offer gamblers voluntary bet limits

Pilot program to launch at slots parlor


The state Gaming Commission on Thursday signed off on a pilot program at the planned slots parlor in Plainville that would give gamblers the voluntary option of limiting how much money they spend before they sit down at a machine.

Gaming Commission chair Stephen Crosby said the program will be the first of its kind in the United States, describing the gambling industry in the past as being “very reluctant to even consider” such a move.

Crosby characterized the approval of the program as part of the commission’s effort to meet the task of minimizing the “negative consequences” of casino gambling in Massachusetts, as it was mandated to do by the 2011 expanded gaming law.

“The law makes this a high priority, keep problem gambling to the barest possible minimum, and we’re following the law and trying to do that,” Crosby told reporters after the commission’s unanimous vote.

Mark Vander Linden, the commission’s director of research and problem gambling, recommended to the commission that Bay State gambling facilities offer “play management tools” that allow gamblers to “pre-commit” how much they will spend over a period of time.

During the meeting, Crosby said all three current gambling licensees have reluctantly agreed to collaborate with the commission on “play management” tools, and Penn National has been “gracious enough” to take part in the first test.

“We don’t have good data that we could rely on whether this is good or bad,” he added, explaining the need for an initial pilot test.

Penn National won a license for a slot parlor at Plainridge Racecourse that is slated to open in 2015. The company has been promoting the parlor as a casino, with slot machines and video blackjack and video poker.

Crosby said the tool will likely be tested over a two-year period.

He added that the tool’s software may need some work before being used. “If we can get it ready to go by June 30, which is around the launch date, that’s ideal but that’s not a certainty,” he said.

The commission has awarded casino licenses to Wynn Resorts in Everett and MGM in Springfield, which are expected to open casinos in 2017, while a possible casino license for southeastern Massachusetts has not yet been awarded.

Gamblers would be able to enroll in the “play management” tool at electronic gaming machines, service stations, and kiosks, Vander Linden said in his memo to the commission.

The tool could be a feature of the licensees’ player reward or loyalty card system, according to his memo.

“A specific cost to implement and maintain a system is difficult to determine, but does not appear cost prohibitive,” the Dec. 4 memo said. “Early adopters of play management systems paid high costs to build new technology from scratch and retrofit both hardware and software to existing gaming management systems. Since that time, the technology has become increasingly effective and cost-efficient, which would likely benefit Massachusetts if play management tools are adopted.”

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Commissioners disagreed with Vander Linden’s proposal to subject a gambler to a 24-hour cooling off period if he or she attempts to increase the limit they had picked. The commission tasked Vander Linden with coming up with an alternative.

“We’ve been very, very careful to make sure that it doesn’t get in the way of the positive experience for the 90 percent or so of people who gamble without any risk at all, and that was a very high priority to the operators,” Crosby said.