Massachusetts Casino Openings May Impact Impaired Driving Rates

Posted on: January 31, 2022, 10:18h. 

Last updated on: February 1, 2022, 10:44h.

There were tens of thousands of DUIs or instances of impaired driving in Massachusetts since commercial casinos were opened in 2015, according to an analysis presented recently to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC).

Massachusetts Gaming Commission member Brad Hill
Massachusetts Gaming Commission member Brad Hill (right), pictured above. The former state legislator was “happy to hear” impaired driving trip numbers “aren’t as high as I thought they might be,” given the presence of casinos. (Image: Salem News)

During Thursday’s meeting, MGC member Brad Hill (R-Ipswich) said he was happy to hear that the number of impaired drivers wasn’t as high as he thought it could be. Hill, a former state representative, voted for the Expanded Gaming Act of 2011 that allowed the state’s three commercial gaming properties to open, according to the State House News Service, a Massachusetts news agency.

Christopher Bruce, an MGC consultant, added that a “certain number of additional drunk driving trips is essentially inevitable when you have facilities that serve alcohol.” That can lead to both DUI arrests and collisions, he warned.

Unless we observe a number of crashes that is significantly above what we would estimate the total to be … then we can say the casinos are probably operating optimally and deterring as much drunk driving as they reasonably can,” Bruce added.

Massachusetts’ commercial casinos are the Plainridge Park Casino, MGM Springfield, and Encore Boston Harbor.

“I don’t see any evidence or haven’t heard any evidence that they’re not complying so far,” Bruce said about the efforts made by the venues to comply with rules on alcohol use.

However, fines have taken place for lapses. Last March, MGM Springfield was fined $18,000 for allowing underage patrons on the casino floor. One of the minors also got a free alcoholic drink. Under Massachusetts law, no one under 21 is allowed on a casino gaming floor. The minimum age to drink alcohol is also 21.

‘Normal Increase’ Statement Challenged

When asked for comment on the MGC’s response, the Rev. Richard McGowan, a finance professor at Boston College who closely follows New England gambling trends, told,

I must say that I find it amusing that Commissioner Hill seems to be happy that it is just the ‘normal’ increase,” McGowan told “I wonder whether Commissioner Hill knows the multiplier effect on families, etc. when drunk drivers kill other innocent drivers.”

In 2010, a study published in the Journal of Health Economics found a “strong link between the presence of a casino in a county and the number of alcohol-related fatal traffic accidents.”

McGowan also points out that the number of auto accidents, as well as the number of DUIs, is just one of the negative consequences of a casino. Gaming venues also make alcohol readily available and some say encourage its consumption, he added.

Ban on Free Drinks

To help curb the problem, police could undertake selective enforcement to patrol roads leading to and from gaming properties, Bruce said. The MGC members also discussed the option of a marketing effort to warn about the risks of DUI.

Elsewhere, some states make it illegal to offer patrons free alcoholic drinks, McGowan said. Other states limit the number of hours that alcohol can be served.

“I doubt that these measures have any appreciable effect on the DUI rates,” McGowan advised. “It would seem that attending a casino one drinks either to celebrate winning or is drowning your sorrows.”