December 31, 2014

You know what would help compulsive gamblers?  Not opening casinos in the Bay State.  I know, I know:  that ship sailed last November when Issue 3 was defeated 60/40 clearing the path for Vegas-style casinos in Massachusetts.  Never mind that the forces that sought to keep casino plans moving forward outspent the anti-forces 15.3 million to 728k.  And just shush on the ample political science research which shows voters are influenced by the framing gulf this kind of spending differential creates – especially on low-salience issues like ballot initiatives.

So now we turn to decidedly smaller questions regarding the implementation of casino policies in MA.  Our soon to be sworn in Attorney General, Maura Healey, who stated she was against casinos in the general election, has indicated that one of the new divisions she will create in her AG’s office will be devoted to gambling.  This sends a strong message to gaming interests that the state’s chief law enforcement officer will be watching and is inclined towards protecting the citizens of the Bay State rather than giving gaming interests a carte blanche.

But does the Massachusetts legislature have this same orientation?  At issue right now is where ATMs can be located within casinos.  In the face of confusion over what the policy should be (and was already agreed to), an amendment to make ATMs available at the casinos but not on the gambling floor is currently being discussed.  The Mass Gaming Association, when asked, says they support the amendment though their own documents indicate that best practices keep ATMs and casinos separate.

Anti-casino activists and those critical of the banking industry agree arguing that having ATMs a few extra feet away from the gaming tables does little to help the problem gambler.  Their availability does, however, help the banks and casinos. Regular gamblers, and especially problem gamblers, often spend beyond their limits when cash is readily available and fall prey to the proverbial quest to make-up losses when house rules make this the worst bet of all.

I have to be honest:  I just cannot make myself care about this debate as the question is not where ATMs are located in a casino.  If the Massachusetts legislature really wanted to be a model of responsible gaming, no ATMs would be available on-site.  I know the chief complaint: what if one wants dinner or to visit the spa?  A resort casino has more than just gaming and one might want cash for that.  Use your credit card.  And if you do not have one of those, you should not be gambling. 

*If* our elected leaders on Beacon Hill want to make a statement on how gaming will be run in Massachusetts then banning ATMs would send a clear and decisive signal. 

And, while we are at it, let’s really go big:  no alcohol on the gaming floor. 

The symbiotic relationship between pathological gambling and alcohol abuse is well documented.  The direction of the relationship is difficult to disentangle, but problem gamblers are enabled by alcohol abuse and vice versa.  Indeed, according to the research, 73.2% of pathological gamblers had an alcohol use disorder.

So all this focus on where (not if) ATMs will be located misses a beat:  alcohol fuels problem gamblers as well as everyday Bay Staters who spend more than they want once liquid courage gets involved.  I am not saying no alcohol at the resort because, well, I am a realist.  But why must alcohol be so plentiful on the gaming floor?  It enables problem drinkers and undermines the choices of those for whom gambling is not a major issue. 

Forget that folks can now stagger a few extra feet to an ATM – let’s keep them from staggering at all where bets are being placed.

Massachusetts legislature, ATMs, issue 3, alcohol, casinos

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