Metro

Plainridge slots didn’t affect state lottery sales

Massachusetts officials have worried that the state’s expanding casino program could take a bite out of state lottery revenue.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Massachusetts officials have worried that the state’s expanding casino program could take a bite out of state lottery revenue.

Researchers say the opening of Plainridge Park Casino in 2015 — the state’s first casino — had no discernible negative impact on sales of state lottery tickets.

“There was no widespread decrease in lottery revenue following opening,” said Mark Nichols of the University of Nevada Reno.

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The researchers studied sales before and after the opening of the slots parlor to reach the conclusion, which was delivered Thursday to the state Gaming Commission.

Massachusetts officials have worried that the state’s expanding casino program could take a bite out of state lottery revenue, which for decades has provided a steady stream of financial aid to cities and towns.

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The state lottery sold more than $5 billion in tickets in fiscal 2015 and tallied profits of about $1 billion. Most of that money went to support local services, like salaries for teachers, police, and firefighters.

The research was led by Rachel Volberg of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in conjunction with Nichols. The 2011 state law that allows casinos in Massachusetts mandated what is often described as the most comprehensive research project on the effects of casino gambling.

Already, the group under Volberg’s leadership has reported research showing no increase in crime following the opening of Plainridge in Plainville, which is near the Rhode Island border.

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Gayle Cameron, a member of the state Gaming Commission, noted that in the years-old debate over whether to expand legal gambling in Massachusetts two of the most often voiced concerns were increased crime and harm to the lottery.

“So this is evidence that’s not happening, at least for now,” she said.

Nichols agreed, though he cautioned that the findings cover only one year of Plainridge’s operation and that lottery sales tend to be volatile. He also said he could not predict based on this research what may happen when two much larger casinos open in Massachusetts.

The $950 million MGM Resorts casino in Springfield is slated to open in 2018, followed one year later by the $2.1 billion Wynn Resorts casino in Everett.

Lottery sales are increasing by 1.7 percent annually, Nichols said. But when factoring in inflation at about 2 percent, lottery sales should be considered flat or declining slightly, he said.

Sales in the vicinity of Plainridge did not change significantly compared to statewide sales, he said.

The one exception is sales at the Plainridge casino. For decades, lottery tickets were sold at the harness horse racing track there. Then the casino opened as part of an expanded gambling complex. As a result, lottery sales there more than tripled, he said.

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.
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