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Leaping Ahead

A new decade brings a new era for responsible gaming and problem gambling treatment

Leaping Ahead

As a new decade begins, and online gaming and sports wagering continue to expand throughout the United States, the gaming industry and responsible gaming advocates are making new strides in addressing problem gambling issues.

New Collaborative Efforts

As a new decade begins, and online gaming and sports wagering continue to expand throughout the United States, the gaming industry and responsible gaming advocates are making new strides in addressing problem gambling issues.

New Collaborative Efforts

A Responsible Gaming (RG) Collaborative group has been formed, made up of the American Gaming Association, the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers, the Association of Problem Gambling Service Administrators, Harvard Medical School, the National Center for Responsible Gaming, the National Council on Problem Gambling, the National Indian Gaming Association, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, the Responsible Gambling Council, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas International Gaming Institute, the University of Memphis, Washington State University and the Yale School of Medicine.

It has taken proactive steps to try to assure a unified approach and effort toward addressing the issue of problem gambling.

When the RG Collaborative was announced, the AGA said its “goal is to work with regulators, policymakers, experts, advocates and other stakeholders to find the best solutions and direct resources to them.”

First established in 2018, the RG Collaborative has outlined goals “to chart a new course on the complex issue of responsible gambling and identify the programs and policies that best address responsible gambling” as well as prevention of problem gambling and to “hold government accountable for supporting proven, effective solutions.”

As a result of these collaborative efforts, in January, the RG Collaborative announced the following Responsible Gambling Effectiveness Principles to spark discussion, encourage collaboration, and generate new insights into the central question: What are the most effective ways to foster responsible gambling, as well as prevent and address problem gambling?

The six principles announced are:

  1. Support funding for research and evaluation
  2. Support funding for problem gambling treatment
  3. Help patrons make informed choices about their gambling
  4. Ensure every company has a responsible gambling plan, and industry employees understand their role and responsibility in fostering responsible gambling and preventing problem gambling behavior
  5. Confirm gambling-related business practices that encourage responsible gambling
  6. Equip consumers with the tools they need to gamble responsibly and prevent problem gambling behavior

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, noted: “The Responsible Gambling Effectiveness Principles are meant to spark discussion, encourage collaboration, and generate new insights into this critical area. We encourage all stakeholders—policymakers, regulators, advocates, researchers, and industry—to build upon these fundamental principles, inserting evidence-based activities and regulations that support safe, responsible gambling.”

Studying Effectiveness and Accountability

The RG Collaborative also announced in January that it has conducted a study to better understand whether funding allocated for responsible gaming and problem gambling (PG) from states’ gaming tax proceeds are appropriately spent as they are designated.

The analysis showed states’ handling of RG/PG tax funding fell broadly into three categories in the most recently examined fiscal year(s):

  • Six states (Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Nevada, New York and Pennsylvania) likely spent the allocated tax money on RG/PG issues.
  • Four states (Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and Oklahoma) likely did not spend the allocated tax money on RG/PG issues.
  • Four states (California, Iowa, Mississippi and Ohio) are unclear.
  • In these cases, funds may be partially diverted to other issues, the state has recently rolled back the dedicated funding streams for RG/PG altogether, or never had a dedicated funding stream.

In connection with the release of this study, Alan Feldman, distinguished fellow, responsible gaming, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas International Gaming Institute, noted, “As states are one of the main beneficiaries of gaming revenue, it is essential that designated funding for responsible gambling is used for its intended purpose.”

Bill Miller, president and CEO of the AGA, stated, “I can think of no better way to lead our industry into a new decade than renewing our commitment to effectively promote responsible gaming and tackle problem gambling head on. The Responsible Gambling Collaborative has an important role to play as we chart a new course for responsible gaming, and the AGA is proud to be a part of it. The research released provides important insight into the allocation of funding for essential programs. As the top benefactor of gaming taxes, it’s troubling to see that state responsible gaming funds are not always used for their intended purpose.”

The RG Collaborative’s focus on assuring “accountability” for the use of responsible gaming funding is having an impact in getting other stakeholders including operators and regulators involved and focused on this topic.

For example, at the January meeting of the Michigan Gaming Control Board, Board Chairman Robert Anthony noted that the new online gaming and sports wagering legislation enacted there calls for $2 million of additional problem-gambling funding. He observed that there is already money being spent, indirectly, by the state, but noted, “It isn’t clear, exactly what the board’s responsibility is with respect to making sure that that money is being spent effectively in programs that are really going to focus on problem gambling.”

The chairman then indicated to Executive Director Rick Kalm that he would like a report over the next two or three meetings, explaining how the money is currently being used, how they intend to use the additional dollars and how the board can measure the effectiveness of the money being spent.

Kalm said he will try to capture all the various sources of funds for problem gambling (lottery, sports wagering bill, horse racing) and will ask the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to report on how this money has been spent in the past, and what the plans are for the future.

New Preventative Technologies

The evolution of the effort to address problem gambling has seen a host of new technologies introduced in the last few years. One such concept includes Responsible Gaming-Oriented Game Features being included with gaming machines.

Modifications to the gaming equipment include features that slow down the rate of play and post warning messages. They include clocks to show the length of playing time, and the offering of play-money modes on machines. With this form of harm-minimization approach, the gaming equipment itself plays a role, assisting people in making informed choices and encouraging responsible gaming behavior. It will be important for this area to be studied going forward to measure the effectiveness of the approach.

The commonwealth of Massachusetts has utilized somewhat similar types of technology as part of the GameSense programs offered at casinos in the state.

In 2015, the Massachusetts Gaming Commission launched GameSense, a player-focused responsible gaming program that encourages players to adopt behaviors and attitudes that reduce the risk of gambling-related harm. Operated by the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, GameSense Info Centers are located at each casino property and staffed by trained advisers.

GameSense advisers equip players and employees with information, tips and tools to keep gambling a safe and enjoyable experience. The on-site advisers have played a key role in encouraging patrons to monitor their time spent, and to set budgets for their gambling activities.

Growing Trend for Treatment Shows Success

A very effective means of treating gambling compulsions has been the use of residential treatment centers. In December, the Veterans Administration announced the opening the Las Vegas VA Residential Recovery and Renewal Center, or LVR3, which hosts 30- and 45-day programs for gambling and substance abuse treatment.

The facility is the second of its kind offered by the VA. Its first gambling addiction center is the Brecksville, Ohio, VA Medical Center near Cleveland. These facilities are offered to veterans with compulsive disorders.

Another true leader in offering this form of treatment for problem gambling is the Louisiana Association on Problem Gambling. In 1999, it opened its Center of Recovery, or “CORE” facility, offering residential treatment for compulsive gamblers. The facility offers its service not only to residents of Louisiana, but compulsive gamblers from all over the world.

The facility offers a home-like setting and has 21 beds for adults suffering from a compulsive gambling disorder. CORE indicates that it has had a success rate upwards of 78 percent. Currently, Louisiana residents are able to obtain treatment at CORE at no charge. For out-of-state residents, a flat rate of $5,000 for the 28 days of treatment is charged, making it an incredibly cost-efficient way of addressing such a compulsion.

The CORE facility’s success and its open-door policy have resulted in compulsive gamblers from throughout the country getting treatment, and is inspiring other jurisdictions to explore this treatment option.

One such example comes from the state of Michigan. The Michigan Association on Problem Gambling (MAPG), the Michigan affiliate of the NCPG, has referred people afflicted with the disorder there, and recently established a grant program to cover the cost of the 30-day program for individuals who have not had success with the services currently offered in Michigan.

MAPG Executive Director and NCPG board member Michael Burke made the following observations on this program: “I have witnessed firsthand the success that CORE and other in-patient residential gambling disorder treatment facilities can provide to people suffering from gambling disorder. For the first time this January, MAPG contracted with the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling and was able to provide funding for a Michigan resident to attend CORE through our newly established Disordered Gambling Treatment Grant Program.

“The goal of the grant program is to help fill a gap within the state of Michigan, as this type of service is not currently offered. It is my understanding that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) is currently exploring residential in-patient treatment for gambling disorder and has allocated funding for two pilot projects in the Detroit area. We are hopeful the MDHHS takes note of the various existing programs already established throughout the country and collaborates with MAPG to ensure the long-term success of the program.”

Established Practices, Existing Protocols

As the gaming industry matures, best practices with regard to responsible gaming have developed, and jurisdictions have learned from each other to continually improve the practices and systems to assure that problem gambling is effectively addressed. This has provided the opportunity for new jurisdictions that add gambling options to learn from others as well.

One of the few remaining states without casino gambling—but where casino gaming is being studied—is the commonwealth of Virginia. Wisely, the Virginia legislature empowered the state’s Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission (JLARC) to do a comprehensive study related to a review of casino gaming laws in other states, evaluate the commonwealth’s current and potential gaming governance structures, project potential revenues from expanding legal forms of gaming, and evaluate the impact of expanding gaming on the Virginia Lottery, historical and live horse racing revenue, and charitable gaming revenue.

As part of its examination of the impact of expanded gaming, JLARC included a review of problem gambling issues, and delivered its report in late November of last year.

JLARC’s report to the legislature included a call for funding for problem gambling prevention and treatment programs, even if the state does not authorize expanded forms of gambling. The report overview on this topic noted, in relevant part:

Virginia’s existing problem gambling prevention and treatment efforts are minimal despite the public’s access to gambling through the lottery, historical horse race wagering, charitable gaming, and other avenues. States typically fund problem gambling prevention and treatment programs with gaming tax revenue, which should be considered even if the General Assembly does not authorize additional forms of gaming.

Part of JLARC’s review of the topic included a review of best practices in other states. Its report to the legislature provided the following overview of how states go about addressing problem gambling. Chapter 5 of the JLARC report noted, in key part:

States have specific “responsible gaming” requirements to reduce the negative effects of gambling, and casino operators typically have their own responsible gaming initiatives. The most common responsible gaming strategies are self-exclusion lists, prohibiting credit advances and restricting the use of credit cards on the gaming floor, and providing disclosures, such as a problem gambling helpline number. Some states also impose restrictions on operators, such as limiting the availability of check cashing and ATMs for patrons; limiting advertising; restricting alcohol consumption and smoking in gaming venues; limiting hours of operation; and setting limits on wagering or allowing gamblers to set self-imposed limits on losses… Experts recommend self-exclusion lists as an essential strategy. More generally, experts recommend that responsible gaming initiatives be clear about objectives; focus on vulnerable populations; teach people about the risks of gambling and how to gamble safely; give operators some flexibility in implementing responsible gaming; monitor effectiveness; and change as the industry and technology evolves. About half of the states with casinos require operators to submit a responsible gaming plan as part of their application for a gaming license. Such a plan can serve as a framework for all responsible gaming strategies.

Greater Accountability

New forms of legalized gambling are being authorized throughout the states, such as online gaming and sports wagering. They will bring new funding and new challenges to stakeholders involved in trying to combat compulsive gambling. It’s very encouraging that key stakeholders are working collaboratively to provide a unified message on the most effective way to achieve success.

A key part of that success will be an ever-increasing focus on accountability in the use of problem gambling funds. Casino operators and regulators play an important role in making sure that the money provided truly goes to prevention and treatment.

More research will be needed on emerging technologies aimed at prevention of problem gambling. The success that residential treatment facilities appear to be having is definitely something to be emulated throughout the world. Both through the collaboration, and through the efforts of the various stakeholders in the gaming industry, there are now clear best practices that all states (not just potential new states like Virginia) would be wise to consult, to assess whether their states can make improvement in this area.

The RG Collaborative, each of its members, and their ongoing proactive approach to this topic have created a substantial wealth of information and knowledge resources that policymakers, regulators, operators and manufacturers can tap into to help assure ongoing success in this effort.

David Waddell is a gaming attorney and president of Regulatory Management Counselors, P.C. (RMC), a firm that helps businesses manage compliance matters in multiple jurisdictions in an efficient manner. RMC publishes the newsletter and RMC Daily Newsfeed, and has played an active role in contributing to the website. Waddell is also a longstanding member of IMGL and IAGA, and has authored or co-authored numerous books and publications on gaming and legal topics.

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