Is state helping problem gamblers?

The expansion of casinos across New England is good for state revenue, but not for people who have addictions to gambling.

How much of a problem will this disorder become? A Providence College professor argues that the casinos scheduled to open first – convenience casinos, those targeting residents of nearby areas rather than travelers from hundreds of miles away – are more likely to result in problem gambling.

The business model of a convenience casino relies on patronage by regulars, who will gamble more frequently, says Patrick T. Kelly, an associate professor in the Department of Accountancy at Providence College.

Given the millions of dollars in revenue it receives from gambling operations, and could expect to receive from expanded gaming in Tiverton, Rhode Island should be doing more to fund problem-gambling treatment programs, he said.

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In fiscal 2016 the two gaming facilities in Rhode Island contributed $293 million to the state’s general fund.

Newport Grand alone generated $26.7 million in revenue for the state in fiscal 2016, according to the R.I. Department of Revenue. That could reach $91 million if the replacement casino for Newport Grand voters appeared to approve Nov. 8 is built in Tiverton, according to a forecast prepared by Twin River Management Group, which owns the Newport gambling hall and Twin River Casino in Lincoln.

In Massachusetts, applicants for a resort casino license were required to include a proposal to address problem gambling within their requests.

Kelly said he could identify no additional resources going to treatment or identification services in the Tiverton casino proposal.

A spokesman for Gov. Gina M. Raimondo could not be immediately reached for comment.

When asked what the Tiverton project includes for problem-gambling services, Patti Doyle, spokeswoman for Twin River Management Group, said the company annually contributes $100,000 to the state’s Division of Lotteries for problem-gambling programs.

Twin River also runs its own internal training program to help employees in identifying and assisting problem gamblers, including directing them to a hotline, she said in an emailed response.

Is that enough? The proximity of the Massachusetts and Connecticut casinos on the development horizon, as well as the Rhode Island project, means trouble ahead, Kelly said.

“Right now, Rhode Island funds their problem-gambling prevention and treatment programs at a fraction of what the funding level is in both Massachusetts and Connecticut,” Kelly said.

Expanded gaming in the region is expected to result in three casinos in Connecticut, two casinos in Rhode Island and four in Massachusetts, he added.

“Almost everyone in New England is going to be within 50 miles of a casino,” Kelly said. •