NCRG On The Road At The Massachusetts Gaming Commission Meeting In Boston

The NCRG on the Road blog series includes posts from NCRG staff members as they travel to continue the organization’s mission of funding the highest-quality research on gambling disorders and increasing public education opportunities. This post is from Nathan Smith, program officer for the NCRG, about his recent trip to Lynn, Mass.

On June 25, the entire NCRG staff was able to attend the fourth public educational forum on problem gambling hosted by theMassachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC). The MGC is in charge of regulating and licensing the new casinos in Massachusetts and convened several experts to speak about research on gambling disorders and provide recommendations on how to address this issue. I was pleased that the work of the NCRG was on display throughout the course of the meeting, including testimony from Christine Reilly, senior research director for the NCRG, and presentations from two NCRG board members and two NCRG-funded researchers.

Christine’s presentation to the MGC outlined the work of the NCRG and discussed some of the important lessons that our organization has learned from 16 years of funding high-quality research. Among these are the importance of having peer-review committees made up of quality independent scientists and creating a system through which the expertise of the scientists drives the research agenda and guides funding decisions. She also stated that the NCRG is willing to help the MGC in any way, from serving as a model in how to fund research to providing science-based resources for the community to use.

Other speakers added an important perspective to how they believe the MGC should approach pathological gambling in Massachusetts, including:

Marlene Warner, executive director of the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling (MCCG), explained the many resources that the organization has in place for problem and pathological gamblers in Massachusetts. The MCCG operates the state’s gambling hotline (1-800-426-1234) and educates the state’s 13 counseling centers with staff trained to treat gambling disorders. Warner also emphasized the devastating effects that a gambling disorder can have on the individual’s family and friends – a group that is sometimes not addressed.

Debi LaPlante,Ph.D.,director of research and academic affairs at the Division on Addiction, Cambridge Health Alliance, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, gave a broad view of the state of the research on gambling disorders. She explained certain key facts that are very relevant to communities similar to Massachusetts, including the research showing that populations adapt to expanded gambling opportunities. That is, when a new community gains access to gambling, there is an increase in the number of gambling problems that community experiences, followed by a steady decline as the community adapts to having a gambling opportunity in its area. Dr. LaPlante illustrated this point with data from her own research on this topic.

Kevin Mullally, general counsel and director of government affairs of Gaming Laboratories International and former executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission, presented during the afternoon session. Mr. Mullally, who also is an NCRG board member, discussed his time designing and implementing the first voluntary exclusion program in the United States and explained several of the best practices of voluntary exclusion programs that are currently in place. Mr. Mullally also gave more evidence for the adaptation of communities to gambling opportunities. Specifically after having over 14,000 people sign up for voluntary exclusion in the first few years of the program, only 3,000 more people have been added to the program since 2006.

Mark Vander Linden, the executive officer of the Office of Problem Gambling Treatment and Prevention at the Iowa Department of Public Health and new NCRG board member, focused his talk on the importance of peer-reviewed research on gambling disorders. He encouraged the commissioners to provide adequate funding for research and to continue the funding for research over the course of time (several presenters discussed the lack of long-term, repeated studies about how gambling effects populations).

Sarah Nelson, assistant director of research at the Division on Addiction and assistant professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, used her presentation to discuss some of the general principles of taking a public health approach to gambling disorders. She also provided the MGC with specific examples of public health interventions that have found mixed results. For example, airbags in cars have been shown to save lives very effectively unless the passenger in the front seat is very small, in which case airbag deployment can be extremely dangerous. Dr. Nelson’s example shows the importance of studying the effects of an intervention before implementation for the general public.

Commissioners also heard testimony from Dr. Rachel Volberg, president of Gemini Research Ltd., and two individuals who are recovering from pathological gambling. There is information about the all of the speakers and topics discussed at this forum, including a complete video, available on theMGC’s website. You can also search the Twitter hashtag #MassForum for highlights from the NCRG’s live-tweeting session.

Stay tuned for the next NCRG on the Road blog series as Amy Martin travels to Milwaukee, Wisc., for the National Council on Compulsive Gambling annual conference today! If you’re attending, make sure to go to the “Resources at your Fingertips” session on July 14 from 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. in Executive Ballroom A/B.

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