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The Diane Rehm Show is one of my favorite talk shows. I hear it most often on WUNC, the public radio station in my area. One reason that I like the DR Show is the way the hosts (primarily Ms. Rehm) manage different perspectives on important issues of the day. Guests tend to represent different perspectives and cover key aspects of complicated issues.

For example, “Winners and Losers in the Casino Industry” (aired Wednesday, September 17, 2014) featured Geoff Freeman, President and CEO of the American Gaming Association and experts who study the impact of casinos and gambling, such as Father Richard McGowen, SJ, casino specialist and Adjunct Associate Professor of the Carroll School of Management at Boston College.

What really impressed me about that episode is how the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is taking a public health approach to ongoing and comprehensive research on the impact of its planned new casinos. Dr. Rachel Volberg, Research Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, shared some details about this effort (among other things).

(credit: Thinkstock.com)

FYI, in November 2011, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed the Expanded Gaming Act into law. “The Gaming Act allows for up to three destination resort casinos located in three geographically diverse regions across the state and single slots facility competitively awarded for one location statewide.”

In addition to the promise of new jobs and revenue for the state, there was concern about negative effects, including a rise in crime and gambling addictions. In response, “The Expanded Gaming Act requires that the Commission establish and ‘Annual Research Agenda‘ in order to understand the sociological and economic effects of expanded gaming in the Commonwealth.”

This innovative research project will:

  • Establish a baseline assessment of the status of gambling and other factors in MA
  • Generate early detection signs of changes
  • Promote responsible gambling and mitigate problem gambling

Kudos to Massachusetts’ policymakers and public health advocates for having the foresight to include a public health approach in this economic and entertainment development project. Examining a comprehensive set of social and economic factors, working to minimize negative impacts and establishing research evidence before impact begins will help ensure that these new casinos do more good than harm to casino visitors and the surrounding communities.

If you are interested in casinos and their impact (positive and negative), keep an eye on these results. My guess is that this research and its approach will have an impact on the casino industry and related public policies beyond the Commonwealth of MA.

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