The concept of offering casino games at a new site drew a quick response Wednesday from Connecticut’s anti-problem-gambling forces: Don’t do anything without fresh data on the state’s gaming addiction issues.
They also said adding new gaming sites almost certainly would trigger a need for more education, counseling and other support services to combat problem gambling.
“To consider additional facilities without taking into account the cost to Connecticut’s most vulnerable citizens would not be a good idea,” said Cheryl Chandler, interim executive director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, a Clinton-based private, nonprofit advocacy and support group.
“It took almost an act of God to get a new study done the last time on the impacts of problem gambling,” said Sen. Andrea L. Stillman, D-Waterford, one of the legislature’s most outspoken opponents of expanding gaming. “It took far too long. We need to know what problems we face and what resources are available before we consider any changes.”
Chandler and Stillman were referring to Monday’s announcement by Mohegan tribal chairman Kevin Brown that the operators of the Mohegan Sun casino are interested in developing one or more new gaming facilities in Connecticut.
The goal, Brown told The Mirror on Monday, is to keep customers being targeted by new casinos being developed in Massachusetts.
But Stillman and others said that, regardless of the tribe’s intent, any new site offering casino games represents an expansion of gaming.
More importantly, Chandler added, increased access is one factor contributing to problem gambling.
“Within 50 miles of a casino, the rates of pathological and problem gambling can double,” she said.
Both Chandler and Stillman said the Mohegan tribe has been a valuable partner for groups concerned with problem gambling by supporting education and counseling services.
But they also said that if a new site opens, it is very likely Connecticut will need to step up its efforts to combat this type of addiction.
Current law requires the state to assess the economic and social impacts of gambling in the state every 10 years. But legislatures and governors routinely waived that requirement.
The last study was undertaken in 2008 and issued in 2009. It recognized the casinos’ major contributions to Connecticut’s economy – both in terms of employment and the hundreds of millions of dollars in video slot revenues it provides annually to the state budget.
But when it came to problem gambling, the report drew criticism for relying partly on an earlier study conducted in 1997 – just five years after the Foxwoods Resorts Casinos opened near the Ledyard-North Stonington border and only one year after Mohegan Sun’s opening.
That report estimated about 32,000 people, or 1.2 percent of the population, fit the profile of a problem gambler. It also concluded that about 192,000 people were at risk of becoming problem gamblers.
Stillman, who is retiring from the legislature, had battled for years to get the long-overdue 2008 study done.
And Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, who is returning for the next legislative session in January, said she is wary that many state officials remain reluctant to take a fresh look at gambling addiction.
“Gambling pulls families apart. It causes a lot of grief,” said Urban, who was one of the legislators who publicly opposed an initiative to legalize keno in Connecticut two years ago. “But we need to have a better handle on what is going on.”
“More information is always beneficial, and these are decisions that should be made with as much information as possible,” Chuck Bunnell, chief of staff to the Mohegan tribe, said in response to calls for a new gambling impact study.
Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, the leader of the state legislative panel that oversees gaming issues, said Tuesday that he wants to hold an informational hearing later this month on ways to preserve the casino industry Connecticut has developed.
Dargan, who is co-chairman of the Public Safety and Security Committee, said Connecticut casinos face growing pressure, not only from as many as three casinos being planned in Massachusetts, but from two relatively new gaming facilities in Rhode Island.
MGM Resorts International, which is developing an $800 million casino in Springfield, Mass., has been very clear it is targeting Connecticut’s gaming industry, Brown said.