State to spend $15m-$20m a year on problem gambling

'It's an unheard of amount of money,' Crosby says

ON THE EVE of the opening of the state’s first casino, the chairman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission said his agency will spend $15 million to $20 million a year to address problem gambling.

In a speech on Tuesday to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Stephen Crosby said the problem gambling budget in Massachusetts will dwarf the $1 million a year the state has spent previously and represents between 25 and 30 percent of what the nation as a whole spends. “It’s an unheard of amount of money,” he said.

Crosby said the money will go for research, education, prevention, treatment, and intervention strategies.  He said Game Sense, a problem gambling strategy developed in British Columbia, will be deployed at the state’s gaming facilities along with a program allowing gamblers to voluntarily place a limit on the size of any losses they can incur.

Crosby estimated 400,000 adults in Massachusetts show some signs of problem gambling and 90,000 are experiencing problems now. He said those numbers are likely to increase as more and more gambling facilities open. The first facility, a slots parlor in Plainville, opens on Wednesday, and casinos are scheduled to open in Springfield and Everett in 2018. He said the commission has tried to maximize revenue for the state while minimizing as much as possible the negative impacts. He said Massachusetts currently incurs all the negative effects with none of the benefits.

“For good or ill, it’s a momentous day,” Crosby said.

According to the Gaming Commission, Massachusetts residents currently spend about $20 billion on gambling each year — $5 billion on the state lottery, $10 billion at casinos in other states, and between $3 and $5 billion on online betting, horse racing, bingo, charitable gaming, sports betting, and illegal betting. Crosby estimated the arrival of new gambling facilities could add another $6 to $8 billion to the total, or a 25 to 35 percent increase.

“You can believe that is good, bad, or indifferent, but the point is, it’s not an order of magnitude change,” Crosby said. “We are heavy gamblers in Massachusetts already.”

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Even if the new gambling facilities simply repatriate the $10 billion spent on casino gambling out of state, Crosby said gaming would be worth it for the state because of the 10,000 new jobs, the $250 million a year in tax revenue, and the $15 to $20 million a year that will be spent on problem gambling.

Crosby said the new gambling facilities will have some impact on the state Lottery, but it’s unclear how big that impact will be. While most experts say lottery proceeds are likely to fall 2 to 4 percent after the casinos open, Crosby said even a 10 percent decline (the equivalent of about $90 million) would be offset by mandated contributions to lottery aid from gambling tax receipts.