Massachusetts officials study gambling perceptions in African-American community By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports April 10, 2019 at 8:00 pm The Massachusetts Gaming Commission has had its hands full lately with the fallout from the sexual harassment at Wynn Resorts. But there’s more going on at the agency that’s important – even if it doesn’t generate startling headlines. Beyond acting as a licensing and regulatory agency, the MGC continues to press for a greater understanding of legalized gambling’s impact on the community. For proof look no further than its funding a study titled “Casinos and Gambling in Massachusetts: African-American Perspectives.” The research-based report “examines perceptions and beliefs of African American Americans” toward casinos and other forms of gambling. Along with the MGC-funded Social and Economic Impact of Gambling in Massachusetts study – touted as “one of the largest longitudinal studies on gambling ever implemented in the United States” – the reports show an appreciation of a gambling economy’s complex effects on society. The report was prepared by a team of professional researchers, academics and problem gambling experts from JSI Research and Training Institute, Cambridge Health Alliance, the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, and Hampton University. Using focus groups and surveys to build their findings, the report provides a valuable base line for future studies and the kind of informed perspective that can only be achieved over time. Among the topics discussed: overall gambling experiences and perceptions, problem gambling, and “help-seeking behavior” in minority communities described by participants as impoverished with high unemployment and in substantial need of important social services to address mental health and substance abuse issues. From the look of the report, it appears there’s plenty of work to do in communicating the presence of legalized gambling as something positive for the African-American community. Some of the responses are likely to sting promoters of the Massachusetts casino experience. “Overall,” the executive summary concludes, “participants are aware that casinos are purposely designed to entice people to gamble more. They used terms such as ‘a setup, a ploy, a trap, demonic, and a classic plantation scenario’ to describe casinos.” Of course, not all those interviewed saw the rise of casino culture that way. Others appreciated that basic money management techniques were necessary to ensure the games remained fun, if not profitable, from setting spending limits to learning the rules and nuances of the games themselves. A finding that may surprise some people: “Religious beliefs appeared to play an important role as both a catalyst and a deterrent to gambling among participants: they pray to God for good luck and they pray to God to help them cope with problem gambling.” To little surprise, the study paints a mixed portrait of positive and negative views. Among the fears: that casinos would exacerbate the crime and drug problems that already exist in troubled neighborhoods, and that gentrification (specifically in Springfield) might make it tougher to remain in their residences. “They are concerned that casinos will bring new types of criminal activities and attract new criminals to the community,” the report states. “According to some participants, police departments are overstretched, and they wonder if current law enforcement staff will be able to absorb their additional responsibilities.” Those interviewed also expressed concerns that increased stress on social and police services might offset the potential positive impacts on job creation. According to the findings of the SEIGMA study, “Although Blacks are the group most affected by the negative aspects of gambling, they perceived gambling in the Commonwealth as beneficial to their communities.” Although casino gambling became legal in 2011 in Massachusetts, the state hasn’t rushed to the tables. A slot emporium opened in 2015 and full-scale casinos in Everett and Springfield are still being completed. Given the excitement and controversy surrounding the legalization of gambling in Massachusetts, it’s easy to get caught up in the hype and headlines. Fact is, the decision to embrace a casino resort comes with an impact that’s not always easily understood. Beyond its economic jolt and the potential for job creation, there’s also an impact on minority and economically disadvantaged communities. It’s a complex issue and well worth serious study. The MGC should be lauded for setting a base line on which other research can be based. Contact John L. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.