As the state draws nearer to a vote on casinos in Massachusetts, legislators are hearing from many groups with a vested interest in the proposal.
While some should be rebuffed – especially those seeking to protect or increase their piece of the pie regardless of whether it’s good for the state – there is one group whose views legislators should hold paramount.
For years, the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling has walked a fine but consistent line. Funded by the state through Lottery receipts, its job is to respond to the social problems caused by legal gambling.
It advocates for the prevention and treatment of compulsive gambling, but it scrupulously avoids getting pulled into the Beacon Hill debate over whether gambling should be legal or illegal, expanded or restrained.
It has, however, staked out a position on the current casino bill.
This week the council praised the legislation for including an “exclusion list” to prevent gambling addicts from entering casinos, State House News Service reports. The bill requires payback statistics to be posted on slot machines, and that space inside the casinos be set aside for compulsive gambling counseling, substance abuse and mental health counseling.
It provides for research related to problem gambling’s impact on areas near casinos, and establishes a public health trust fund to address compulsive gambling.
Most of these provisions were not included in previous casino bills, so this is an improvement, a council spokeswoman said.
Expanded gambling opportunities typically cause compulsive gambling to spike, usually declining as people get used to the casinos’ presence.
Research shows that no more than 4 to 6 percent of people who gamble at casinos become problem gamblers, unable to control their actions. Restricting the entertainment choices of everyone in order to protect a small minority from temptation doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially since there are already plenty of opportunities to gamble.
We don’t ban the sale of beer and wine because some people are prone to alcoholism.
To a family emotionally and financially devastated by gambling addiction, it doesn’t matter whether the savings has been gambled away at a casino in Connecticut or Massachusetts, or blown on scratch tickets at a convenience store down the street. What matters is that people are taught to recognize the signs of compulsive gambling, and that treatment is available for those who cannot control their compulsion.
Any expansion of gambling must include rules and funding to help those enticed into addiction.