Casinos Object to MA Regulators’ Play Management Program

Massachusetts welcomes youFollowing a decisive victory against the casino repeal initiative that appeared on the November 4th ballot, Massachusetts’ casino projects are back in full swing. Construction and planning has resumed on the approved casino projects and checks are being cut to local communities.

The storm is over, but it doesn’t appear that it will be smooth sailing across the finish line. Even though casino repeal efforts have been defeated, Massachusetts’ budding casino industry seems to still have a few more kinks to work out.

If the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) gets their way casino operators in MA will have to abide by several unwanted regulatory burdens.

Regulators vs. Casino operators

The American Gaming Association (AGA) and the casino companies they represent have taken issue with several regulatory burdens the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) is seeking to impose on operators in the Bay State.

It started with their objection, to among other things, a prohibition on the sale of alcohol past a certain hour (to conform with Massachusetts’ Blue Laws), but came to head last week after the AGA submitted a four-page rebuttal to the MGC’s advocacy of “Play Management,” a controversial program that incentivizes slots players to set and adhere to wagering limits.

Play Management is a non-binding agreement that allows casino patrons to set a predetermined wagering limit. Play Management is designed to reward people who set these limits and stick to them. According to Judith Glyn, a gambling consultant brought in by the MGC, the program is meant to target infrequent visitors to the casinos, not problem gamblers.

Glynn told the Boston Globe, “It’s to let people go to casinos and enjoy themselves instead of walking out with that horrific feeling of regret because they spent more than they wanted to.”

But not everyone agrees that the program will work the way it is intended.

Concerns over Play Management

In a recent hearing, the casino operators in Massachusetts (Wynn, MGM, and Penn National) voiced several concerns with the program.

The chief argument is the systems ineffectiveness in other markets around the globe (MA would be the first locale in the U.S. to adopt such a system), which the AGA addressed in their 4-page letter to the MGC:

While the Strategic Science report does an admirable job detailing pre-commitment programs in the international jurisdictions where they exist, the fact that these limit-setting technologies are in use does not in and of itself mean the effectiveness of these programs has been established on the basis of sound science.

There is also the very real potential for people (including problem gamblers) to “game the system” by setting inordinately high targets and reaping the rewards of never hitting those targets. The AGA also addressed this in their letter:

“… research [on Nova Scotia’s now scuttled mandatory player card system] concluded that, “Higher risk gamblers set higher and more variable limits than low-risk or non-problem gamblers.. [and] a proportion of problem gamblers unmotivated to seek treatment may set higher limits under a pre-commitment system to compensate for, and/or avoid, potential barriers restricting options to chase losses.”

Another concern cited during last week’s hearing was the possibility that complicating the process and having people essentially admit they cannot gamble responsibly might turn people off from gambling.

They also were against a system that required players to opt-out instead of opt-in, which is the current way Play Management is being framed in MA.

The AGA and the future operators of MA casinos raised many valid points, but the optics of the AGA’s opposition drew criticism from Twitter, predominantly the final paragraph of the Boston Globe article:

In its letter, the association also asserted that “in more developed gaming jurisdictions” the percentage of problem gamblers “has either plateaued — at roughly 1 to 2 percent — or in fact declined” because people “develop a more normalized, healthy relationship to an activity that was once novel.”

When put in context the AGA’s statement seems far less provocative [I have quoted the entire passage from the letter below]:

“In many of the more developed gaming jurisdictions around the world, the percentage of the population experiencing negative health effects as a result of gambling has either plateaued — at roughly 1 to 2 percent — or in fact declined. This phenomenon has been observed even in places, such as the United States, where gambling opportunities have increased.

“While researchers have yet to establish causal factors for this flattening out and/or decline in problem gambling prevalence, a few hypotheses exist. One of the more widely regarded theories suggests that the small percentage of people who might be susceptible to problematic behavior simply adapt over time to having gambling opportunities in their midst and naturally develop a more normalized, healthy relationship to an activity that was once novel. Increasing public education and awareness, more funding going toward improved research, and increasingly available problem gambling services may also be playing an important role in this trend, according to some researchers.”

It should also be noted that the MGC has not taken action on the Play Management proposal.

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