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Guest Blog from the SEIGMA project team at UMass Amherst: What is the latest on the Research Agenda?

SeigmaInternationally, research serves an increasingly critical role in informing gambling policy and regulation. Indeed, studies conducted in other countries illustrate the vital role that independent research can play in minimizing the harms and maximizing the benefits associated with the provision of legal gambling. However, within the United States, only a small amount of money is spent on gambling research and as a result, we know very little about how gambling in our country can be most safely provided.

But Massachusetts is changing that landscape. The Expanded Gaming Act requires the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) to “develop an annual research agenda in order to understand the social and economic effects of expanding gaming in the commonwealth” and “annually make scientifically-based recommendations which reflect the results of this research” to the Massachusetts legislature. To that end, the Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) project was launched in April 2013. (See http://massgaming.com/about/research-agenda/ for more information on SEIGMA and the research agenda.) Although the research agenda will ultimately be funded and sustained through the creation of the Public Health Trust Fund, the MGC elected to spend significant resources of its own to fulfill this statutory requirement, thus demonstrating its commitment to promoting responsible gambling.

As researchers, we really respect this groundbreaking legislation and the precedent it sets for making rational, evidence-based policy decisions. We’ve been hard at work over the past 9 months fulfilling its various mandates and attempting to do what no jurisdiction in the United States has done before, which is to conduct a baseline population assessment before new gaming venues are introduced to the state. That’s why we were delighted to collaborate with the MGC on their first report to the legislature on the research agenda and our progress to date. Below are some highlights from the report, which was approved by the MGC on December 3rd and submitted to the legislature on December 18th.

Highlights from the Legislative Report—Activities to Date

Social and Health Impacts Analysis

  • Developed, pre-tested, and received Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for a general population survey and online survey questionnaire and materials;
  • Translated the questionnaire into Spanish and converted both language versions to an online format, computerized telephone format, and paper and pencil format;
  • Launched the General Population Survey on September 11, 2013;
  • Launched the online survey on October 23, 2013; and
  • Created a list of social measures and health services utilization indicators to track and analyze over time.

Economic and Fiscal Impacts Analysis

  • Created a detailed list of the range of measures that will be collected, tracked, monitored and presented over the course of the project;
  • Coordinated data collection methods, shared database development, and documentation with the Social and Health Impacts Team;  and
  • Began collecting secondary data across all the measures presented in the data matrix, and organizing the data for integration into the project’s data management center.

Problem Gambling Services Evaluation

  • Created a questionnaire for treatment providers and obtained IRB approval;
  • Established a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between UMass and the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling (MCCG) to establish guidelines for sharing, reviewing, and analyzing helpline and online chat data; and
  • Initiated review of de-identified data on helpline calls for analysis.

Data Management

  • Established procedures for receiving, reviewing, preparing, and accessing data; and
  • Created a public website  to highlight research activities and related content of interest.

Over time, the findings from this unprecedented work will be extremely valuable to the Commonwealth. In addition to informing how monies from the Public Health Trust Fund and Community Mitigation Funds are expended, they will be used to improve problem gambling services and advance the overall quality, effectiveness, and efficacy of prevention and treatment of gambling disorders. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a thorough and comprehensive understanding of the social and economic impacts of casino gambling in this state will provide all Massachusetts stakeholders with a neutral database for strategic analysis and decision-making.

A copy of the full report as well as an Executive Summary can be found on both the MGC website and the SEIGMA website.

To check out a previous blog post on the Legistlative Report, click here.

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