There are many obstacles to gaming’s continued growth and innovation, but one of the most significant is also one of the least understood—concerns among policymakers, regulators and other stakeholders over problem gambling.
At Disney World today, guests are outfitted with a MagicBand—a Fitbit-like device that lets customers do everything from unlock hotel doors to pay for food and merchandise. The MagicBand also allows Disney to personalize the vacation experience, with special offers and benefits. Princess Cruises offers the Ocean Medallion, providing many of the same conveniences that go into creating a seamless vacation.
However, innovations like this are currently closed to the gaming industry. In fact, casinos are not even allowed to accept credit cards or other forms of digital payments from gaming customers—in part because of negative perceptions about the issue of responsible gaming.
Every year, gaming companies invest an estimated $300 million in programs, employee training and compliance measures aimed at promoting responsible gaming, preventing problem gambling, and ensuring that people who need help get it. Yet, we get little credit. Responsible gaming advocates believe we should be doing more. Policymakers are skeptical about our commitment. And our programs are seen as ineffective.
Clearly, our current approach needs to change. It’s time for our industry to take a leadership role that will change the misperceptions about our commitment to dealing with this important issue.
To help accomplish this goal, the American Gaming Association recently launched the Responsible Gaming Collaborative. This Collaborative includes the entire gaming industry—AGA, the National Indian Gaming Association, the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers, the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
It also includes advocates from the National Council on Problem Gambling and the National Center for Responsible Gaming—along with experts from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas International Gaming Institute, Harvard University’s T.H. Chan Public School of Health and Yale School of Medicine.
I believe there are three main areas where the Responsible Gaming Collaborative can have an impact.
First, we need to ask the right questions about the programs being funded. Rather than the exclusive focus on the prevalence of the problem, let’s also focus on effectiveness by asking things like: What responsible gaming programs are actually working? And which policies are failing to meet their goals, get help to those who need it, or deliver any consumer or public benefit?
Second, we need to ensure that government and other stakeholders are supporting and promoting the best programs based on evidence, sound science and results.
A few years back, one state decided ATM machines couldn’t be within a 15-foot radius of video lottery terminals. That limit was later reduced to 10 feet. Casino operators asked to cut it to 7 feet to align with standardized gaming floor plans—but were denied. Has anyone seen research suggesting why ATMs are safe within 10 feet of machines, but not 7 feet? Of course not. We need a unified understanding about what works—with clear, consistent policies driven by evidence-based research, not arbitrary judgments and misperceptions.
Third, we need to demand accountability for results. Our industry generates millions of dollars for state governments to direct to responsible gaming efforts, but is all the money really being targeted toward effective programs? How much of is just winding up in a state’s general fund? It’s time we all found out.
The Responsible Gaming Collaborative held its first meeting last month. We’ll be convening throughout the coming year to advance these goals and evaluate our progress.
If we succeed, we’ll gain a clear understanding of what programs actually work when it comes to promoting responsible gaming. We’ll make sure that tax revenues generated by the gaming industry are truly flowing to those programs. We’ll hold government accountable for results. And we’ll make progress in transforming perceptions about our industry’s commitment to this important issue—and create a better environment for gaming’s future.