How Irresponsible Are The MA Responsible Gaming Research Budget Cuts?

Posted on July 17, 2017

[toc]Two Massachusetts resort casinos are set to open their doors in 2018 and 2019. Plus, online gambling and online lottery both on the radar for 2018. Yet, the Massachusetts legislature appears to be doing the unthinkable; it’s considering deep cuts to Responsible Gaming resources for the second consecutive year.

New cuts worth $250,000

The impetus for the cuts is to bring the state budget into balance. In the legislature’s eyes, part of the balancing act includes a 17 percent cut to funding of responsible gaming programs. That amounts to a mere pittance of the budget, $250,000. It also comes after a $500,000 cut to responsible gaming funding this past December, according to local press reports.

If this year’s cuts become a reality, the total cuts to responsible gaming funding over the past two years would be an astounding 37.5 percent. They would drop the overall amount of money appropriated for responsible gaming from $2 million down to $1,250,000.

According to MassLive.com:

“The $40.2 billion fiscal 2018 budget that’s on Baker’s desk includes $1.25 million for the Department of Public Health to spend on problem gambling services, $250,000 less than what was appropriated last year.”

Marlene Warner, the executive director of the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling added more in a statement:

“These cuts to problem gambling services couldn’t come at a worse time, particularly as online gambling is expanding, we anticipate new casinos opening in the coming year, and the Lottery had another record year. The funding cuts will be devastating to our work treating those suffering from addiction and preventing problem gambling in the first place.”

The hope now is that Governor Charlie Baker restores the funding or shuffles funding around. Unfortunately, this seems unlikely, considering it was Baker behind the 2016 cuts.

A hiccup in the Massachusetts Model

This is a strange line for Massachusetts, which has been at the forefront of casino and gaming research in recent years.

Massachusetts implemented several responsible gaming pilot programs at the Plainridge Casino in Plainville, Massachusetts. These programs will also be instituted at MGM Springfield and Wynn Boston Harbor when they open their doors. The programs started studying the economic and social impacts of the state’s decision to expand into casino gambling when the legislature first authorized casinos back in 2011.

Cuts to responsible gaming programs seems way outside the box for Massachusetts. However, there could be a logical explanation for the legislature’s willingness to cut funding.

Is the legislature thinking further down the road?

Keep in mind the cuts could be rendered moot if the legislature plans on legalizing online gambling in 2018.

Say Massachusetts does legalize online gambling next year. There is a very strong possibility the law would require online gaming operators to contribute a significant amount of funding to responsible gaming research and programs. That amount would almost certainly be more than the current cuts call for. It would likely offset the 2016 cuts too.

Still, considering the relatively small amounts these cuts are saving the state, any cuts to responsible gaming funding seems like a big risk with little reward.

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Steve Ruddock

Steve Ruddock is a veteran of the poker media, contributing to offline and online publications centered on the regulated US online gambling industry. These include OnlinePokerReport.com, PlayNJ.com, USPoker.com as well as USA Today. Steve is based in Massachusetts and is also a poker player.

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