MGM's Springfield casino is scheduled to open in less than a year. That could have local residents with gambling addictions nervous.
The state offers a program that essentially allows people to ban themselves from the casinos for a period of time. But for residents of western Massachusetts, it's not that easy to sign up.
People who "voluntarily exclude" themselves from casinos aren't allowed to enter the area of the casino where gambling takes place. And if they somehow do slip under the radar, any winnings are forfeited to the state.
The process starts with an in-person meeting.
"There's some paperwork, obviously, that needs to be filled in order to get them them on the list," said Mark Vander Linden of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. "We would need to take their photo as well.
So far, very few people from western Massachusetts have signed up to voluntarily exclude themselves from the casinos. Of the 225 people on the list, fewer than 3 percent are from the four western counties.
One possible reason?
The most publicized ways to sign up are to go to Plainridge Park Casino in the southeastern part of the state, or one of two offices in Boston.
Michael MacMunn is a Westfield counselor who works with addiction. He said that could be an issue for someone from western Mass.
"We should focus on making it easier for him or her to accomplish that goal," he said. "When it's taking some time off of work and driving 90 miles, it's just another road block for somebody to get better."
However, there may be a way around that trip to Boston or Plainville, according to Marlene Warner, the head of the Massachusetts Commission on Compulsive Gambling.
"If someone said to us, 'You know, we really are unable to travel to eastern Mass. and would like to do this,' we could secure a private, confidential location where we could sit down and conduct it," Warner said.
But this option does not appear to be publicized. The websites for the compulsive gambling commission and state casino regulators make no mention of this option. Warner admitted they can do a better job of spreading the word.
And the gaming commission's Mark Vander Linden said they will have an office in western Massachusetts ahead of MGM Springfield's scheduled opening next September.
"We're going to look well in advance of then to make sure that we have the ability or location in western Massachusetts for persons to enroll in the program, should they wish to do so," he said.
Vander Linden said the gaming commission expects to have that location open next summer.