Maybe We Should Have Testified

After grilling state officials yesterday on the potential social ills associated with casino gambling, House members came away decidedly unsatisfied. (Disclaimer: since we think this was more political ploy than earnest fact finding, we think they would have been unhappy anyway.) What really cooked the legislators’ grits was that they couldn’t pin the Governor’s people down on the number of Massachusetts residents who would become compulsive gamblers if the state were to allow three casinos to open in the commonwealth.

We thought we might lend a hand.

Technically, Michael Botticelli, director of the Substance Abuse and Addiction Bureau of the Department of Public Health, was right when he said, “It’s impossible to extrapolate a number [of new compulsive gamblers] at this time.”

Phineas Baxandall, who co-authored a 2005 study entitled “The Casino Gamble in Massachusetts” for Harvard’s Rappaport Institute, said the data simply is not there to be able to predict the number of people who would become addicted to gambling. The data does exist, however, to predict what the increase in bankruptcies would look like.

“I’d it’s say the best indicator we can find with really solid data,” Baxandall says. “They’re related because at least some subset of people with compulsive gambling are going to go bankrupt.”

Baxandall’s study — which we’ve referenced before here — reports that in counties where casinos opened, personal bankruptcies jumped by about 10 percent. That figure was “slightly higher” in more populous counties.

The Globe reported this morning that, according to current estimates, there are 123,000 to 250,000 compulsive gamblers in the state. If we open casinos here we can expect those numbers to go up in the neighborhood of 10 percent in the host counties (what percentage the state numbers go up obviously depends on which counties the casinos land in). Admittedly, the method isn’t perfect — we are making the jump from bankruptcies to gambling addictions here. But it sure gives you a better idea than just saying “I don’t know.”