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Keep It Fun

Understanding the odds is an important aspect of responsible gaming.

The commercial casino industry takes great strides to ensure everyone who visits our casinos is there for the right reason—to have fun. Whether it’s enjoying great meals at our restaurants, seeing performances by world-class entertainers in our showrooms, or joining friends for an evening of blackjack, there is fun for the taking. That’s what our business is all about.

An important part of ensuring our patrons enjoy their time spent in the casino is helping them—and our employees—understand how to gamble responsibly. Promoting responsible gaming is a year-round priority for the gaming industry, and each August we take additional steps to educate employees, patrons and the public about responsible gaming during Responsible Gaming Education Week (RGEW).

This year, August 1-5, RGEW is focusing on the theme “Know the Odds,” which shines a spotlight on the importance of understanding the odds of winning—and losing—a casino game. Throughout the week, casinos across the country will host activities that help employees learn more about the odds of the games and help them to educate casino patrons about responsible play.

During RGEW 2011, the American Gaming Association and our members across the country will be distributing the brochure “The House Advantage: A Guide to Understanding the Odds,” which provides information about the house advantage in a variety of games, debunks some commonly held superstitions, and outlines each game’s mathematical probabilities and other factors behind winning and losing. This brochure is a valuable resource because it reinforces that the casino always has the advantage and can help players set clear expectations and make smart decisions about their gambling.

Understanding the odds may seem like a small step, but it can make a big difference. Research shows that mistaken ideas about the odds of casino games can sometimes lead to dangerous playing behavior. We know that while the vast majority of Americans are able to gamble responsibly, a small percentage of people—approximately 1 percent of the adult population—cannot. The industry takes this issue seriously, and we continue to believe that even one problem gambler is one too many.

Interestingly, research shows that problem gambling behaviors can be reduced through cognitive-behavioral therapies, which focus on reducing excessive gambling by correcting false beliefs about probability, skill and luck. In a 2001 study conducted by researchers at Laval University in Quebec, pathological gamblers who received cognitive-behavioral therapy reported they felt less desire to gamble, more control over their gambling and more able to avoid gambling in high-risk situations.

Educating our employees and patrons about the odds of casino games is a key aspect of the industry’s goal to be transparent—and both a good business decision and the right thing to do. With the backing of peer-reviewed research, we know that correcting false beliefs about the odds of casino games can help players keep it fun and stay in control of their gambling.

The AGA and the U.S. commercial casino industry have been at the forefront of responsible gaming initiatives for more than 15 years, but the combination of many innovations in gaming technology and the changing social landscape will require us to create new and engaging ways to educate people about responsible gaming.

With the potential of bringing gambling into the home via the legalization of online poker, we’ve heard concerns that gambling problems may spread. However, there is no evidence that online gamblers are more likely to be pathological gamblers. A major British study found no increase in the rate of pathological gambling between 1999 and 2007, even though online gambling became widely available during that period; similar results emerged in a study of Swedish gamblers.

Companies looking to grow into the online space need to be aware of this issue and take the initiative to promote responsible gaming online with the same commitment that has guided these efforts at brick-and-mortar casinos. Explaining how the industry plans to address problem gambling and underage gambling online is paramount to any successful bid to license online poker in the U.S. By looking to other countries that successfully regulate online gambling, the U.S. can create a strict regulatory structure that allows for these issues to be addressed in an online environment. In total, about 85 nations worldwide have chosen to legalize and regulate online gambling. Many have shown that the technology now exists to exclude underage gamblers, ensure fair play, and limit problem gambling on online sites.

The fact is, millions of Americans bet billions of dollars a year at foreign websites, and they will continue to do so even if their government tells them not to. Legalizing and regulating online gambling can help the industry to reach more Americans with our responsible gaming messages and ensure that safe, honest casino practices provide players with fair games, similar to those in real casinos.

Whether they are playing online or in person, casino patrons and employees deserve to have access to information about responsible gaming, including information about the odds of the games. The ongoing commitment of the AGA and the industry to provide these resources is a hallmark of our pledge to our employees, patrons and the public that we will operate responsibly. By providing information about how our games work, the odds are good that our patrons will know how to keep it fun.

Ladouceur, R., Sylvain, C., Boutin, C., LaChance, S., Doucet, C., LeBlond, J., and Jacques, C. “Changing Your Mind: The Promise of Cognitive Therapy.” Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 189(11), pp.774-780. 2001.

Wardle, H. et al. British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007. National Centre for Social Research, Prepared for the Gambling Commission, September 2007.

Spel, S. “The cost of gambling. An analysis of the socio-economic costs resulting from problem gambling in Sweden.” Council of the European Union, Brussels, pp. 406-09. 2009.

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