Clinic Warns MGM Springfield Could Harm Local Gamblers
Crystal Aviles Del Valle, a therapist at the Gandara Center mental health clinic in Springfield, described to New England Public Radio (NEPR) a stark rise in problem gambling among her patients. According to NEPR, Aviles Del Valle’s anecdotal evidence is but one sign of an alarming uptick in compulsive gambling among Western Massachusetts residents.
The MGM Springfield opened in August 2018 with a great deal of fanfare. The casino’s ownership group, MGM Resorts, led a successful marketing and public relations campaign to sell the casino to Massachusetts officials.
In the runup to issuing a casino license for the Springfield resort, Massachusetts voters had to be convinced that casinos would not lead to a major increase in crime, gambling addiction, or other social problems. The campaign was successful, as the Massachusetts electorate approved a 2011 statewide referendum on whether to issue up to 3 casino licenses.
At a time when the global recession was hurt state tax revenues and damaging the Western Massachusetts job market, many officials were on-board with billion-dollar investment which would create jobs in the area.
Springfield Therapist on Problem Gambling
Crystal Aviles Del Valle told public radio that as many as 85% of her patients now visit the MGM Springfield casino. She added that her patients use casino trips to cope with depression and anxiety.
A year ago, she said that few of her patients discussed visits to a casino. Now, patients tell her [in her words], “Instead of maybe going out shopping, now I go to the casino.”
Gandara Center Patients on Gambling
The Gandara Center therapist is quick to point out most of her patients do not exhibit pathological gambling — or even problem gambling. Instead, Aviles Del Valle says her patients are exhibiting what she calls “problematic” behavior.
Readers should remember that the Gandara Center treats patients who have acknowledged mental health issues and are trying to treat those issues. While mental health should not be stigmatized, balanced reporting requires one to note that those who describe their use of a casino as a “coping mechanism” may be more prone to requiring a coping mechanism than the population-at-large. At the very least, Gandara Center patients are likely to report the need to cope more often. Thus, the 85% reported should not be taken as a sample of the gambling public in general.
Aviles Des Valle notes that herself. She added, “Obviously, if it’s not impairing their functioning — it’s fine. But [gambling could become a problem] once they start telling me they lost a lot of money, in words like, ‘I need to get back to kind of make the amount of money that I lost.’ I had a client that told me, ‘I went to the casino, and I went at night, and it was the other day in the morning, and I had no idea how many hours had passed, and I was still at the casino.'”
Mark Vander Linden Disputes Account
Mark Vander Linden, who is the chief researcher for the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, said it is too early to characterize the activity as problem gambling. He said, “It’s really difficult to judge whether or not we’re seeing an increase in the prevalence of problem gambling in and around Springfield.”
The MGC research director added, “It’s not surprising that with any new type of gambling, you get people that are interested, and trying it out and seeing how it goes. And then what’s also very typical is that once the casino is there for a while, the novelty of it is gone.”
Lara Quiles on Gambling Addiction
Lara Quiles, the administrator at the Gandara Center, said a slow and hard-to-determine decline in mental health is a part of problem gambling. Such behavior tends to have an avalanche effect, where the decline begins in small and imperceptable ways, but snowballs into a huge problem over time.
Quiles said, “Typically, when a person is struggling with substance, we can see other signs, perhaps — physical signs, deterioration in mental health. But with gambling, it takes more time.”
How Problem Gambling Snowballs
As a person’s losses mount, it begins to eat into savings and perhap affect job performance or family relations. Eventually, the person faces serious financial blow-back from their problem gambling. At that point, a person might seek help through a hotline — or the person’s friends and family seek an intervention.
If that does not happen, then the financial strain becomes greater. A gambling addict could chase losses to win back their money quickly, which often leads to significant issues. People facing such a situation might contemplate suicide, commit crimes to cover gaming debts, or declare bankruptcy. Many will discuss the issue with a therapist, but often only when the consequences start to manifest starkly in their lives.
For now, the therapists at Gandara Center say most of their patients have no issues with the MGM Springfield. They are noting that as many as 85% of their patients view a casino trip as a coping mechanism — and that coping mechanism could become an issue in the near future.