Key Takeaways From The Massachusetts Gaming Commission Annual Report

Steve Ruddock December 2, 2016 1704 Reads
Massachusetts gaming keys

On Nov. 22, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission submitted its fifth annual report to the state government. The report covered a wide range of topics from legislative recommendations, to updates on the MGM Springfield and Wynn Everett projects, to an ombudsman report.

Here’s a look at the key findings from the 31-page report.

10 key achievements

The report highlighted 10 undertakings the commission completed in 2016:

  1. Oversaw the first full year of operations of Plainridge Park Casino (PPC). As of June 30, 2016, gross gaming revenues totaled $166 million, resulting in a gaming tax of $81.3 million.
  2. Concluded the review and evaluation of the remaining applicant for a Region C Category 1 license: Mass Gaming & Entertainment’s proposal for a casino at the Brockton Fairgrounds. The commission decided not to award a license to the applicant.
  3. Hired Edward R. Bedrosian Jr. as its new executive director. In December 2015, MGC’s five commissioners voted unanimously to approve the hire of Bedrosian, who brings more than two decades of experience as a public sector manager: first, as a deputy district attorney in the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office and then as the first assistant attorney general in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office.
  4. Promulgated 13 sets of regulations that govern many important aspects of gaming operations, including: gaming devices and electronic gaming equipment, voluntary self-exclusion, licensing, standards of accounting procedures and internal controls, persons required to be qualified, and horse racing.
  5. Released important reports as part of the comprehensive research agenda to study the social and economic impacts of expanded gaming, including a six-month review of crime activity in the Plainville area and an economic analysis of the construction of Plainridge Park Casino.
  6. Implemented two major responsible gaming initiatives: (1) To staff and operate a GameSense Info Center at Plainridge Park Casino, and (2) To deploy PlayMyWay, a voluntary budgeting tool for slot players. These programs are the first of their kind in the US.
  7. Continued to oversee and regulate the racing and simulcasting operations in the Commonwealth, including disbursements for the benefit of horsemen and breeders associations for a total of $17.4 million ($11.4 million to Standardbred and $6 million to Thoroughbred).
  8. Held 37 public meetings of the MGC and an additional 14 public hearings. The commission streams all its public meetings live via the MGC website and transcribes the meetings and hearings in full. Further, there were 23 additional open meetings (Access and Opportunity Committee, Public Trust Fund Executive Committee, Horse Racing Committee, and more).
  9. Researched and authored a White Paper on Daily Fantasy Sports,” with recommendations for the legislature on the rapidly evolving arena of online gambling.
  10. Continued attendance by commissioners and other staff at numerous speaking engagements across the state through the commission’s successful Speakers Bureau Program.

Goals for 2017

The report also looked ahead to 2017 and listed several milestones to meet next year.

  • The second full year of operations of Plainridge Park Casino will conclude on June 30, 2017.
  • MGC will continue to evaluate and improve on its responsible gaming initiatives.
  • MGC will continue to work to maximize the economic benefits from casinos.
  • MGC will continue to make significant administrative progress in the implementation and staffing of additional functions.
  • MGC will continue to implement rules and procedures to ensure the integrity of games.
  • MGC will constantly monitor developments that affect the gaming industry to make policy recommendations.

Research on gambling rates in Massachusetts

When Massachusetts legalized casino gambling, the state set up an extensive, multi-year study to measure and track everything from property values, to gambling data, to crime rates near casinos.

Here’s a look at the gambling participation rates of adults in Massachusetts during the past year:

  • 72 percent of respondents gambled in the previous year.
  • 59 percent of respondents purchased lottery tickets, drawings or instant.
  • 22 percent of respondents gambled at a casino.
  • 13 percent of respondents bet on sports; sports betting is illegal in Massachusetts.
  • Three percent of respondents wagered on horse racing.
  • Two percent of respondents gambled online; online gambling is also illegal in Massachusetts.

The report goes on to discuss problem gambling and provides research data on problem gambling rates in the Bay State.

According to the report, the problem gambling rate in Massachusetts is 1.7 percent, later adjusted up to two percent. A further 7.5 percent of the population were deemed “at-risk” gamblers. This was also later revised upward, to 8.4 percent.

More than 63 percent of the population was classified as recreational gamblers, with 27.5 percent of Massachusetts residents designated as non-gamblers.

Problem gambling breakdowns

For the first time, the MGC report took a deep dive into the small subset of problem gamblers in Massachusetts. The data comes from the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s multi-year “Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts” (SEIGMA) study.

Per the report:

“As part of the ongoing baseline research efforts, this year the research team released a Problem Gambling Online Panel Survey Report (n=5,046). This study contained an enriched sample of problem gamblers to provide greater understanding of 1) negative personal impacts of gambling, 2) impacts of different forms of gambling on gambling-related problems and 3) prevention awareness and treatment-seeking behavior of problem gamblers.”

According to the SEIGMA data, “54% of problem gamblers experience financial problems because of gambling, but only 5% have filed for bankruptcy.”

Additionally, “50% of problem gamblers have experience health or stress problems because of gambling, but less than 9% have sought medical or psychological help.”

One of the more interesting data points was that 23 percent of problem gamblers reported Instant Lottery Tickets contribute more to their problems. Nineteen percent reported slot machines as a contributor. The full SEIGMA has yet to be released (it will be located here), but it will be intriguing to see where other games and platforms rank on this list.

Responsible gaming initiatives in Massachusetts

Leading on responsible gaming programs and initiatives is a major part of Massachusetts’ mission statement when it comes to gambling. The report details several of these initiatives and how they’ve fared to date.

The voluntary self-exclusion program

  • Self-exclusion programs are nothing new, but Massachusetts has put its own twist on it.
  • Players can self-exclude from Massachusetts gaming venues for six months, one year, three years, five years or a lifetime.
  • Self-exclusion can be done through the GameSense Info Center in the Plainridge Park Casino, the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, or the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
  • There are currently 147 people enrolled in the voluntary self-exclusion program.

GameSense info centers

GameSense is an outreach program designed to “provide judgment-free gambling education to help patrons make informed, responsible decisions about when to gamble, when to stop, and how much to spend.”

The GameSense Info Center at Plainridge Casino is the only such facility in the United States. However, each casino in Massachusetts will have a GameSense info center when it opens. GameSense advisors are trained in responsible gaming procedures and operate independently of the casino.

Based on the information provided in the MGC report, GameSense has been well-received by Plainridge customers.

  • GameSense advisors are on site 16 hours per day and are able to build customer relationships by walking around the floor.
  • 87.7 percent of survey respondents said that their primary concern was resolved by visiting the GameSense Info Center or speaking with a GameSense advisor.
  • 82 percent of survey respondents said they would visit the GameSense Info Center again.

PlayMyWay

GameSense isn’t the only responsible gaming pilot program Massachusetts has implemented.

In June, the MGC launched PlayMyWay, a pre-commitment program that allows patrons to set daily, weekly, or monthly non-binding gambling limits and track their play.

People enrolled in the program — according to the MGC report, there are currently more than 5,000 Plainridge customers using PlayMyWay — receive automatic notifications when they reach 50 percent and 75 percent of their pre-set gambling limit.

When they reach 100 percent, the machine will inform them and ask them if they would like to continue gambling. From there, notifications continue at 25 percent intervals.

Updated overview of the Wynn Everett project

  • Conditional Award of the License: September 2014
  • Projected Opening Date: June 2019
  • Gaming Space: 190,461 square feet
  • Total Investment Amount: $2.1 billion
  • Slots: 2,574
  • Table Games: 141 gaming tables, 91 poker tables
  • Other Amenities: 5-star hotel (671 rooms), 56,602 square feet of retail space, ten outlets of food and beverage, multipurpose venue, spa/gym, convention space, outdoor space, indoor garden
  • Parking: 2,931 underground on site, 800 offsite
  • Total Employment: 4,000 permanent jobs (projected)
  • Tax on Gross Gaming Revenues: 25 percent

What really caught my eye was the 91-table poker room. This is quite large by East Coast standards. Borgata has 79 poker tables, and Foxwoods has 97.

Updated overview of the MGM Springfield project

  • Conditional Award of the License: June 2014
  • Projected Opening Date: September 2018
  • Gaming Space: 126,262 square feet
  • Total Gross Area: 759,157 square feet
  • Total Investment Amount: $950 million
  • Slots: 3,000
  • Table Games: 100
  • Other Amenities: 4-star hotel (250 rooms) eight outlets for food and beverage, 26,000 square feet of retail space, bowling alley, cinema and 54 residential units
  • Parking: 3,375 covered on site
  • Total Employment: 2,000 permanent jobs (projected)
  • Tax on Gross Gaming Revenues: 25 percent

The most interesting tidbit in the MGM overview is the 54 residential units built into the casino property.

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