Category Archives: Predatory Gambling

PHAI Litigation the Focus of Boston Globe Editorial

Today the Boston Globe’s Editorial Board published an editorial supporting the the Public Health Advocacy Institute’s efforts to stop automated lottery ticket sales to kids.

Earlier this month, PHAI filed a lawsuit against Star Markets and issued to consumer rights demand to Stop & Shop, two major regional grocery chains, on behalf of the father of a young teen who was able to purchase lottery tickets from vending machines in those stores with alarming ease.  The national membership advocacy organization, Stop Predatory Gambling, is also a plaintiff to the action.

The purpose of the litigation is to ensure that steps are taken to prevent prohibited sales of lottery tickets, including particularly addictive scratch tickets, to children by either requiring that the vending machines are disabled until age verification is performed or by removing the machines from locations where children are present.  It certainly does not help matters when candy displays and other vending machines are adjacent to the lottery vending machines, as we observed when recording purchases made by the plaintiff’s son.

Our goal is straightforward  – lottery vending machines ought to be treated in the same manner as vending machines for cigarettes, the only other age-restricted product sold through automated vending. Cigarette vending machines in Massachusetts can only be places in adults-only locations and must use a lock-out device that prevents the machine from being used for a purchase until age-verification has taken place and the machine is temporarily unlocked by remote control.

There are important public health and policy reasons why products like tobacco and gambling products are not to be sold to youth.  Automated vending tends to undermine the age-restriction and what we learned about cigarettes vending in the 1990s applies to lottery vending in 2015.

PHAI Presentation Highlights Similarities in Tactics of Tobacco and Gambling Industries

On October 30, 2014 at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI), in association with the Boston Alliance for Community Health (BACH), hosted a forum focusing on common tactics and strategies of two predatory industries: tobacco and casino gambling. It featured Northeastern University Distinguished Professor Richard Daynard, David Aronstein, Director of BACH, and PHAI’s Executive Director Mark Gottlieb. The featured speaker was PHAI’s Senior Staff Attorney Lissy Friedman, who presented powerful evidence demonstrating eerie similarities between the two industries.

The forum was especially timely in Massachusetts as voters there are about to weigh in on a first-in-the-nation ballot initiative to repeal the legalization of casinos in the state.

The proceedings were recorded and are presented here:

PHAI Begins Legal Action against Star Markets Over Illegal Lottery Ticket Sales To Minors

The Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) today sent a demand letter to the Star Markets supermarket chain, charging the company with violating the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act by illegally selling lottery tickets to minors.  The letter calls on Star Markets to remove lottery scratch ticket vending machines from its stores.

PHAI sent the letter on behalf of Craig Kelley, the father of a 14-year old boy who purchased lottery tickets from vending machines at two Star Market locations, and also on behalf of the Stop Predatory Gambling Foundation.  The Foundation is a national non-profit organization with an office in Massachusetts, whose mission is to end the unfairness and inequality created by government-sponsored gambling.


According to the letter, Massachusetts law expressly prohibits the sale of lottery tickets to “any person under age eighteen” (G.L. c. 10, sec. 29).  Yet, the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling reports that over two-thirds of teenage boys (aged 14-17) have gambled in the past year, and over half of teenage girls have done so.  About a third of these children gambled by playing lottery games.

The boy’s father, Craig Kelley, said, “Both my son and I were amazed at how easily a 14 year-old boy could walk into a major supermarket and buy lottery tickets from a vending machine.  This easy access to gambling simply does not give our children the safe environment that we owe them, and we need to stop it.”

The boy purchased the lottery tickets on the evening of September 24 at the Star Market stores in Porter Square in Cambridge, and on Beacon Street in Somerville.  He was able to get access to the machines and purchase Mega Millions and $500 Frenzy game tickets without any difficulty, and without being asked to provide any proof of age.

“The future of lotteries and casinos hinges on luring kids to develop a gambling habit,” said Stop Predatory Gambling’s National Director Les Bernal of Lawrence. “Our state government appears to be training kids with these free-standing lottery machines and their addictive scratch tickets – training them for slot machines in casinos.”

Northeastern University Professor Richard Daynard, President of PHAI, also addressed the implications for casinos:  “If a basic protection like age restrictions on the sale of state lottery tickets is not being enforced, what can we expect if casinos and slot parlors are actually allowed to open in Massachusetts?”


PHAI Files Amicus Brief Comparing Gambling and Tobacco Industries

The Public Health Advocacy Institute has filed an amicus curiae brief in an appeal pending before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.  The Plaintiff/Appellants are seeking to reverse a decision of the attorney general and get a question certified for inclusion on the 2014 ballot to repeal a law legalizing casino gambling in Massachusetts.  The case is Steven P. Abdow et al., v. Attorney General, et al., No. SJC-11641.

Legalized casino gambling causes devastating effects on the public’s health, including not only the gambler but also their families, neighbors, communities and others with whom they interact. Massachusetts voters should not be denied the opportunity to be heard directly on the question of whether to invite a predatory and toxic industry to do business in the Commonwealth.

The harm caused by the tobacco industry’s products has been the archetype of a commercial threat to public health, and in considering the introduction of gambling industry casinos into Massachusetts, much can be learned from the object lesson of considering the tobacco industry as a disease vector. The predatory gambling industry shares much in common with the tobacco industry.

Some examples of the similarities are:

  • Casinos employ electronic gambling machines that are designed to addict their customers in a way that is similar to how the tobacco industry formulates its cigarettes to be addictive by manipulating their nicotine levels and other ingredients.
  • Mirroring the tobacco industry’s strategy of creating scientific doubt where none truly exists, the casino industry has co-opted and corrupted scholarship on the effects of gambling through the use of front groups that funnel money to beholden scientists who are able to sanitize its origin.
  • Borrowing another tobacco industry technique of shaping the debate around its products, by creating a misleading lexicon and using euphemisms, the casino industry has tried to influence debate, deflect criticism and mislead the public about its role as a disease vector.
  • By employing personal and corporate responsibility rhetoric honed by the tobacco industry, the casino industry hopes to gain and maintain social acceptability and stave off litigation, regulation and citizen-driven activism.

Both the tobacco and casino industries profit from preying upon society’s most vulnerable members, acting as disease vectors which adversely affect the physical, emotional and social health of the individual users and the communities where use of the products is prevalent.

The brief declares that the voters of the Commonwealth should be allowed to act on their own behalf in expressing an opinion of this type of predatory behavior. The power of the citizen ballot initiative is the ultimate in personal responsibility, agency and self-determination. Therefore, PHAI asks the court to compel the attorney general to certify the Plaintiffs’/Appellants’ petition and allow the repeal measure to be included on the 2014 ballot.

The full brief can be downloaded here.

PHAI’s Daynard Signs on to Report: Why Casinos Matter

PHAI’s President and University Distinguished Professor of Law at Northeastern University, Richard A. Daynard, has joined more than 30 other scholars from a variety of disciplines around the country who have signed on to a report  issued by the non-profit and non-partisan Institute for American Values. The report, “Why Casinos Matter,” provides 31 evidence-based reasons why American casinos need to be understood in terms of how they are significantly affecting our cultural, economic, political, and public health landscape.

The 31 reasons are:

The Rise of the New American Casino
1. Casino gambling has moved from the margins to the mainstream of American life.
2. Today’s regional casinos are different from Vegas-style resort casinos.

The Casino’s Modern Slot Machines
3. The new American casino is primarily a facility filled with modern slot machines.
4. A modern slot machine is a sophisticated computer, engineered to create fast, continuous, and repeat betting.
5. Modern slot machines are carefully designed to ensure that the longer you play, the more you lose.
6. Modern slot machines are highly addictive.
7. Modern slot machines are engineered to make players lose track of time and money.

The Casino’s Health Impact
8. Casinos depend on problem gamblers for their revenue base.
9. Living close to a casino increases the chance of becoming a problem gambler.
10. Problem gambling is more widespread than many casino industry leaders claim.
11. Problem gambling affects families and communities as well as individuals.
12. Young people are viewed as the future of casino gambling.
13. Working in a casino appears to increase workers’ chances of having gambling problems.
14. Working in a casino appears to increase workers’ chances of having health problems.

The Casino’s Economic Impact
15. The benefits of casinos are short-term and easy to measure while many of their costs are longer-term and harder to measure.
16. Casinos extract wealth from communities.
17. Casinos typically weaken nearby businesses.
18. Casinos typically hurt property values in host communities.

The Casino’s Political Impact
19. Casinos are the creation of state government and its public policies.
20. State regulation of casinos creates a conflict of interest, in which the state is charged with protecting the public from the very business practices that generate revenue for the state and which the state is co-sponsoring.
21. States are typically failing to protect their citizens from the harms of state-sponsored casino gambling.
22. States are typically failing to provide adequate help for the treat-ment of problem and compulsive gambling.
23. Some states are propping up failing casinos.
24. Over time, casino expansion within a state and in nearby states can create a downward economic spiral of market saturation, sluggish state revenues, and failing casinos, marked by an ever-growing competition in which each state tries to lure other states’ citizens into its casinos.
25. Regional casinos are a regressive source of revenue for the states.

The Casino’s Intellectual Impact
26. Research on gambling in America is largely funded by the gambling industry.
27. Research on gambling funded by the gambling industry focus¬es overwhelmingly on the individual pathology and pharmacology of gambling addiction while avoiding research into machine design, player profiling, and other industry practices and technological innovations that foster gambling addiction.

The Casino’s Social Meaning
28. State sponsorship of casinos is a policy contributing to patterns of inequality in America.
29. State sponsorship of casinos raises troubling ethical questions about fairness and equal treatment of citizens.

The Casino’s Historical Meaning
30. Encouraging people to put their money into slot machines has historically been viewed as unethical.
31. Encouraging legal gambling as “fun” entertainment and an all-American pastime is a historically new development.

As predatory casino gambling continues to permeate the nation, there is an urgent need to understand the impact it is having.

Download the full report here.