Press & Updates

Dr. Rachel Volberg: How Research Can Help to Change the Game in Massachusetts

by Dr. Rachel Volberg, Associate Professor, School of Public Health and Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst

As the 2014 Massachusetts Conference on Gambling Problems – Celebrating 30 Years: The Game has Changed approaches, we are thrilled to be able to dedicate our blog to give you weekly highlights leading up to April 10 & 11. Highlights will include information about speakers, as well as an occasional sneak peek, written by the speakers themselves, about their upcoming presentations.

This week, we are happy to introduce Dr. Rachel Volberg, Associate Professor, School of Public Health and Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Dr. Volberg has been involved in epidemiological research on gambling and problem gambling since 1985 and has directed or consulted on numerous gambling studies throughout the world.  In 1988, Dr. Volberg was the first investigator to receive funding from the (U.S.) National Institutes of Health to study the prevalence of problem gambling in the general population.  Dr. Volberg is currently a Co-Principal Investigator on the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) study.  In addition to her work in Massachusetts, Dr. Volberg is working on projects in Canada to assess the impact of the introduction of online gambling and to identify best practices in population assessments of problem gambling.  She is also a member of research teams in Australia, New Zealand, and Sweden conducting large-scale longitudinal cohort studies to identify predictors of transitions into and out of gambling and problem gambling.

Dr. Volberg has published extensively, presented at national and international conferences and testified before legislative committees at state, provincial and national levels.  She has served as an advisor to governments and private sector organizations on issues relating to gambling legalization, the epidemiology of problem and pathological gambling and public policy approaches to developing and refining services for problem gamblers and their families.  Dr. Volberg sits on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Gambling Studies and is a Regional Associate Editor for International Gambling Studies.  She is a longtime member of the American Sociological Association and the (U.S.) National Council on Problem Gambling. 

Dr. Volberg takes time to share some insight into her presentation with us:

Anyone who has recently spent time in Massachusetts is likely aware that casinos are coming to the Commonwealth. This change has come with no small amount of controversy. Indeed, the Expanded Gaming Act of 2011, which legalized gambling in the state, has vocal supporters and opponents from across the state and beyond. However, what you may have missed in all of the media attention is the first of its kind research agenda mandated by the legislation.

You see, the Expanded Gaming Act requires the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) to “develop an annual research agenda in order to understand the social and economic effects of expanding gaming in the commonwealth” and “annually make scientifically-based recommendations which reflect the results of this research” to the Massachusetts legislature. To that end, the Social and Economic Impacts of Gambling in Massachusetts (SEIGMA) project, which I lead as a Principal Investigator, was launched in April 2013. (Read more about the SEIGMA research agenda.)

As a researcher, I greatly respect this groundbreaking legislation and the precedent it sets for making rational, evidence-based policy decisions. Over the past year, my team and I have been hard at work fulfilling its various mandates. We are attempting to do what no jurisdiction in the United States has done before, which is to conduct a baseline population assessment before new gaming venues are introduced to the state. Over time, the findings from this unprecedented work will be extremely valuable to the Commonwealth. In addition to informing how monies from the Public Health Trust Fund and Community Mitigation Fund are expended, the findings will be used to improve problem gambling services and advance the overall quality, effectiveness, and efficacy of prevention and treatment of gambling disorders. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, a thorough and comprehensive understanding of the social and economic impacts of casino gambling in this state will provide all Massachusetts stakeholders with a neutral database for strategic analysis and decision-making.

At this year’s Massachusetts Conference on Gambling Problems, you will have a chance to learn about the SEIGMA study design and our progress to date. I sincerely hope you will join me at the session titled Innovative Research Happening in Massachusetts, which will take place on Thursday, April 10th at 1:00p.m. There, you can learn more about how researchers truly are changing the game in the Commonwealth.


For more information contact Alicia Barron, Intervention and Treatment Support Manager.

If you are interested in attending our informative 2-day conference, please check out: 2014 Massachusetts Conference on Gambling Problems – Celebrating 30 Years: The Game has Changed



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