Alan Feldman has a long pedigree in the gaming industry. His first role was with Mirage Resorts as the vice president of media relations. When Mirage was purchased by MGM, he became the senior vice president of public affairs. At the same time he retired from MGM Resorts, he was appointed chairman of the International Center for Responsible Gaming and a short time later was named distinguished fellow for responsible gaming in a newly set up group at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at G2E 2021
GGB: You wear two hats with two great organizations. Is there a way you can segment them, or are they really symbiotic?
Alan Feldman: They are symbiotic and a little bit overlapping, and once in a while they need to be segmented. Obviously, as chair of the ICRG, there’s a fundraising role that I play there, and now that I’m working at UNLV, there’s occasionally a fundraising role there, too. Fortunately, the work that these two organizations do is symbiotic, but it’s also separate.
At UNLV, we principally do applied science and research—trying to understand what’s going on in the marketplace, and how the things we know about responsible gaming are being applied. And we’re at the very, very, very infancy of that. As opposed to at the ICRG, where we started with “What is problem gambling? What does that actually consist of? And what does it look like, and how do you develop treatments?” And we’ve made enormous progress; in the 20 years that we’ve been doing this, we’ve established baseline research that’s now in practice.
The very fact that the disorder of gambling is considered a substance-use disorder is because of the work that scientists who are funded by the ICRG have done. But now there’s plenty of other work to do. What’s going on with subpopulations? How does gambling interact with different races and different genders and different ethnicities? How is gambling even contextualized in those communities? What is the impact of Covid going to be? We all know we have a looming mental health crisis coming in this country, and frankly around the world. How is that going to interact with gambling, particularly now as gambling is undergoing this explosive growth? So there’s a lot of work for both organizations.
We’ve been seeing an increased emphasis on responsible gaming over the past year or two. Some believe that is corresponding with the legalization of sports betting. Do you agree with that?
I think that we’ve seen an increased discussion over responsible gambling. I don’t know that we’ve actually seen the kind of movement in responsible gambling that the industry needs to take. And what I mean by that, is whenever there is a discussion of responsible gambling, the industry will talk about its commitment to responsible gambling. And I don’t doubt that at all; it’s true. The problem is that the regulatory community has defined responsible gambling as knowing what problem gambling is all about. And therefore, the commitment that is made is to comply with regulation. And so, the commitment to responsible gambling is to train all of your employees what problem gambling is all about. And to have information available to customers, that they might be able to understand what problem gambling is about, and have a phone number to call if they need help.
The challenge is, that’s not responsible gambling. Responsible gambling is actually telling the customer what to do in order to keep gambling safe and affordable and fun. And the industry needs to step up into that space. That doesn’t mean not complying with the regulations. It may also mean, frankly, getting in front of regulators and asking them to change their point of view about this. We clearly need to do a better job of explaining what disordered gambling is, what problem gambling is, and what it means. But that’s also government’s job. That’s also the public health sector’s job. That’s also the education community’s job. We’re not alone in that.
The problem with an addictive personality, which we discovered through the research at ICRG, is that people with problem gambling generally have problems with some other addiction. A comorbidity with alcohol, with sex, with drugs, or something like that. How do you segment each one?
You’ve got a couple things going on at the same time. You have genetic predisposition, which is, what was going on with your parents, and your grandparents, and maybe even going back many generations, because if there has been addiction and trauma in your past, then you are walking into a situation with a greater propensity to become addicted to something. Then it’s just a matter of exposure to a given activity or a given substance that may trigger that addiction. The comorbidity is that gambling patients are much more likely to also have a problem with other substances—drugs or alcohol. A huge number are smokers—well in excess of 70 percent.
A fundamental question that’s going to take a while longer to get to is whether or not any of these substance use disorders—drugs, alcohol, or gambling—are secondary issues or primary issues. Did the anxiety and depression help drive people toward those things? Or did those things bring on anxiety and depression? And there is no binary answer here. I think that there’s probably a blend of circumstances that exist in different people, different circumstances in their lives. But here again, this gets to the whole notion of a lot of the work ahead for the ICRG to continue to try and answer.