Massachusetts may be recapturing some of the revenue that for years flowed to casinos elsewhere, according to a statewide study in which participants reported a steep drop in gambling at out-of-state facilities as legalized gaming began to expand here.
The finding, part of a multiyear study by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is based on trends from 2015 and 2016, the first years of operation at the Plainridge Park slots casino in Plainville — before the opening of resort casinos in Springfield and Everett.
The study comes amid signs that the increase in regional competition for gambling dollars could saturate the market, making it hard for gaming businesses to reach their revenue targets and deliver tax dollars that meet state revenue projections.
Rachel Volberg, a professor in the UMass School of Public Health and Health Sciences, who is principal investigator of the study, said it’s too early to say whether the state’s full-service casinos will have a similar effect in keeping Massachusetts gambling dollars in-state.
“It’s going to be a different order of magnitude, but also, because of the characteristics of the communities that surround those developments, we think the impact is going to be very different,” Volberg said.
She said the findings align with earlier surveys of Plainville patrons who said they previously would have spent their money in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
The study found that 22.3 percent of the 2,212 people surveyed between April and August of 2016 said they had gambled at an out-of-state casino, a drop of more than 10 percentage points from surveys of the same group dating to 2013.
The UMass study is intended to help policy makers understand not just the dynamics of the market, but also how the increased prevalence of legalized gambling is affecting public health. The ongoing research was set up by the state’s 2011 expanded gambling law as a way to monitor the social and economic effects of the industry’s growth.
In another finding to be released Thursday — based on a survey of 2,428 people — the researchers found that 44 percent of participants who were identified as problem gamblers in 2015 had cut down on their spending a year later. The study, however, also showed that problem gamblers rarely swear off the practice entirely.
Mark Vander Linden, the gaming commission’s director of research and responsible gaming, said the research is encouraging for state programs such as GameSense and PlayMyWay, which emphasize risk reduction.
“People have different ideas of how they want to try to manage their gambling, whether it’s abstinence or controlled gambling,” he said. “But what’s interesting is for us to begin to understand some of these issues from the different research projects that we have underway.”
The Gaming Commission is set to release the data at a Thursday meeting at which it will take up several matters that bear on the future of the state’s casino industry.
Commission members are expected to vote on a request to reconsider their decision not to award a license for a proposed Brockton casino being pitched by Chicago real estate magnate Neil Bluhm.
A decision could provide some clarity on whether there will be a casino anytime soon in Southeastern Massachusetts. The commission rejected the Brockton license in 2016, unimpressed by the project’s design and wary of an effort by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to open a competing facility in nearby Taunton.
‘People have different ideas of how they want to try to manage their gambling.’
But Mass Gaming and Entertainment , the company trying to build the Brockton casino, argues that the circumstances have changed. The tribal plan has been hung up by federal regulations and Congressional wrangling, and Rhode Island has beefed up its offerings with a new gaming center in Tiverton.
Also Thursday, the commission will hear from top executives of the Encore Boston Harbor about preliminary statistics and details from the most recent financial quarter, which included the completion of construction at the Everett casino and its first days of operation.Andy Rosen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.