SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 19, 2013

Salem State placing bet on gaming research

BY TOM DALTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — Let’s start with a multiple-choice question: What person and organization don’t go together?

1. Lance Armstrong and the Drug Free America Foundation.

2. Sarah Palin and Occupy Wall Street.

3. “Jimmy the Greek” and Salem State University.

Although the first two aren’t matches, Salem State and a famous Las Vegas oddsmaker do have something in common. The local university not only offers courses on the casino industry, it is hoping to do business with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.

The Center for Economic Development and Sustainability at Salem State has submitted a bid to do a research project for the new state commission, which has been given the task of approving three resort casinos in Massachusetts.

In fact, the executive director of the Salem State center was in Las Vegas this winter to interview faculty at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which has a long history with the casino industry, and to talk with executives at the Caesars and Bellagio resorts.

“From a purely academic standpoint, I’m interested in what will be the impacts,” said Lorri Krebs, an associate professor of geography at Salem State and head of the faculty research center.

The state Gaming Commission is also interested in the subject, which is why it put out a request for proposals to research the economic and social impacts that casino gambling could have in Massachusetts.

In addition to Krebs, the Salem State proposal was written by a half-dozen faculty members from different disciplines at the university.

The team includes Jennifer Robinson, an assistant professor of criminal justice; Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello, an associate professor of interdisciplinary studies; William Hamilton and Keith Ratner from the geography department; Duncan LaBay, associate dean of the business school; and Mindy Jeon, an assistant professor in business.

They propose examining economic development opportunities, jobs, crime, transportation, problem gambling and a variety of community impacts.

This is not the first time that the center and Salem State faculty have responded to a local economic issue. The center has helped the town of Essex get funds for a river walk and is working with Peabody on a master plan.

“Our expertise has been the North Shore,” Krebs said. “... The challenge for us will be trying to design a model based on what we know of the North Shore and apply that” to other areas of the state.

The state Gaming Commission will soon choose a consultant, and the competition is stiff. Harvard University is also in the running. But Salem State has made it past the first round and is anxiously awaiting an answer.

Whatever happens, the center at Salem State plans to research the gaming industry and the effects it will have in Massachusetts, using both faculty and students on the project, even if it is only an academic study made available to interested entities on the North Shore.

It is an important, and suddenly relevant, topic.

“It’s going to impact this area,” Krebs said. “There are a lot of jobs that are going to be created. ... We think as soon as (the casino sites are) announced, you’ll see a lot of small businesses cropping up.”

Krebs admitted that not everyone at Salem State was enthusiastic about a research project on the gaming industry, but she and others felt that, if done right, a well-researched study could benefit the region.

“We look at it as a positive,” Krebs said. “If we can address the impacts as they happen, we’re far better off than just watching it go by like Atlantic City. ... We’re going in with our eyes open.”

Tom Dalton can be reached at tdalton@salemnews.com.