In the gaming industry, we are blessed to be led by a lot of smart people. Whether it’s operators or suppliers, the intelligence, wisdom and common sense offered in our business is widespread.
One of my favorite executives in gaming is Harrah’s Entertainment Chairman and CEO Gary Loveman. In the past two months, I had the opportunity to hear him speak twice. The first was at the IAGA conference in Washington, D.C., where I moderated a panel that included Loveman, Isle of Capri COO Virginia McDowell, Bally Technologies President and CEO Richard Haddrill and Australian regulator Peter Cohen from Victoria. The topic we decided upon before this audience of gaming attorneys and regulators was the ongoing problems with regulation in the gaming industry.
After a brief presentation by Haddrill, in which he revealed he had been investigated more than 150 times (it’s now over 200!), Loveman cut to the chase.
“Dick Haddrill is a wonderful person,” said Loveman. “But he’s also one of the most boring people in the world, so what are they going to learn about him in the 150th investigation that they don’t learn in the first?”
Loveman’s point, of course, is that there is so much redundancy in the gaming regulatory system that it puts an incredible burden on any gaming company. Bally alone spends almost $20 million a year on compliance issues.
And at G2E last month, Loveman went much farther in his defense of the gaming industry in an address titled, “The Stockholm Syndrome: Why Addressing the Misinformation that Plagues Gaming is our Top Priority.” His contention in the presentation was that because gaming suffers from erroneous and misplaced perceptions, we are being damaged in ways normal industries are not.
While his first point—gaming’s early connections to organized crime—is well-known and completely untrue in today’s world, the perception still exists and therefore continues to hurt the industry. He questioned whether celebrating those connections today is wise.
He was most critical of the lies and distortions that gaming opponents use when characterizing the gaming industry as uncaring and ignorant when confronting problem gambling. Loveman points out that the current state of research and treatment is a direct result of the industry’s desire to help those who are afflicted with this problem by the funding of the National Center for Responsible Gaming, which provides grants to researchers and academics in that field.
He says those myths and outright lies about the industry are perpetuated every day by a mainstream media which either doesn’t know the truth or chooses to ignore it. He made a plea to the attendees at G2E to set the record straight whenever they see one of these lies being used in their local media.
But Loveman saved his most pointed criticisms for the industry itself. He screened a couple of anti-gaming television commercials that criticized the industry in a very direct and destructive manner—using some of the very wrongheaded arguments employed by anti-gaming zealots. And these commercials? That’s right, funded by gaming companies.
Loveman says we as an industry shoot ourselves in the foot every time we decide to combat competition in a surrounding state or jurisdiction by repeating the vicious lies manufactured by gambling opponents.
No, this message isn’t new, and that’s part of the problem. Those of us who have been around the industry for any length of time are very aware of the perception problem that plagues the industry. But we’ve become immune to it. Every time we read one of these lies and see to whom it is attributed, we simply consider the source and move on. Loveman’s message was that we can’t just move on. We have
to take some action to try to correct this misinformation.
I’ve tried to do that throughout my career. Whenever I meet a journalist covering gaming for the first time, I offer my services to show them the reality of the gaming industry—that it is a business like any other with dedicated employees, enthusiastic customers and happy shareholders (well, maybe not lately!). Some of these journalists thank me for my help; others reject it because it interferes with their preconceived notions about the industry or their editor’s direction.
But we can all do this. And we all must do it, even at at the lowest levels. If your neighbor or friend repeats one of these lies or misconceptions, correct them. You’ll be doing us all a favor.