This Monday, Councilor Tracye Whitfield, chairperson of the City Council’s finance subcommittee, announced that councilors approved funding an investigation into the relationship between drunk driving and casinos. Money for the investigation will come from the Community Mitigation Fund, managed by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
The investigation is to provide important insights into the matter and help police take adequate steps to mitigate the problem. Massachusetts’ gambling watchdog is to provide $191,200 to support the study, which will help further understanding of impaired driving and gaming impact.
Helen Caulton-Harris, the city’s Health and Human Services commissioner, explained that the scope of the study extends beyond Springfield. She elaborated that individuals who gamble at MGM Springfield come from nearby towns and states. Last January, Christopher Bruce, a crime analyst at the state’s gaming commission, carried out a study, examining operating under the influence (OUI) charges around the state’s three casinos. Bruce identified an increase in OUI-related crimes near gambling facilities.
Casinos and police have invested a lot of effort in preventing drunk driving among the thousands of daily casino patrons, but an increase in arrests and collisions was mathematically inevitable. According to Bruce, police can use the study’s findings to create adequate measures to clamp down on drunk driving.
How the Money for the Project Will Be Distributed?
The initial funding will facilitate the city’s Safe Ride Home Project. The initiative includes hiring a health worker committed to addressing problem gambling with a $62,400 salary. As much as $17,500 will fund study resources, while $50,000 will be used to cover consulting fees with the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission will retain $61,300 of the grant, which will be distributed following the completion of the city research.
This year, the Massachusetts gambling watchdog awarded $10.2 million in grants to various municipalities across the state, funding community needs, environmental problems, public safety, and emergency services.
In a statement, Cathy Judd-Stein, chair of the Gaming Commission, said that the gambling authority takes pride in supporting local communities through the Community Mitigation Fund program, addressing problems like road safety, public safety, training, job readiness, and tourism marketing. The Department of Health and Human Services will collaborate with the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and two students responsible for aiding the research will be hired.
The Department of Health and Human Services Sets Up Partnerships for the Project’s Implementation
Ms. Caulton-Harris noted that they will collaborate with the New Citizens Council. She added that her department partners with MGM Springfield, meaning that the students will have the opportunity to work internally and externally. The commissioner added that the department will develop mitigation, intervention, and educational strategies once data is published. She said that the city sought funding from the commission to create an ad campaign and provide education to casino workers.
Caulton-Harris explained that a document would be developed along with the research information, which would be published on the city’s website. The department is expected to complete the study by June 30, 2024, but the findings will be available in September or October next year.
Next to the $191,200 grant, the department received an additional grant amounting to $19,600 for the Springfield Young Adult Gambling Project. Ms. Caulton-Harris outlined that gambling problems can develop early and usually start with innocent activities like playing a video game or scratching a ticket.
The Springfield Department of Health and Human Services will work together with the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the New North Citizens Council on the project, which will develop a research plan by engaging young adults between 18 and 24 on a community advisory board responsible for identifying gambling-related issues.