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Pendulum Swings

It’s Problem Gambling Awareness Month, and we take an objective look at the causes and effects of problem gambling, and the proactive approach to responsible gaming efforts.

Pendulum Swings

This is March; therefore, it’s Problem Gambling Awareness Month as designated by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG). This is not Responsible Gaming Week, as observed in August by the International Center for Responsible Gaming (ICRG), formerly the National Center for Responsible Gaming.

I’m not sure if they have “months” or “weeks” recognizing problem gambling, but there are organizations around the world dedicated to research and treatment of problem, compulsive or disordered gambling—the verbiage can be different in each jurisdiction. Very few of these organizations have government support, so they have to depend upon donations, mostly from the gaming industry itself.

In this edition of GGB, we have several stories on problem gambling—a research paper about cashless transactions done by two of the most noted academics in the field, Sally Gainsbury and Alex Blaszczynski of the University of Sydney. We have a recap of why there are pros and cons to cashless transactions in responsible gaming. And finally, the astute Richard Schuetz explains why we won’t get anywhere in regards to responsible gaming until government officials do the right thing.

Now, there are programs that have been set up by the larger gaming companies to address the issue of problem gambling. No one wants to profit off the weakness of players afflicted with problem gambling, so programs have been established to recognize the symptoms and identify the possible victims. So the big boys have implemented policies and procedures to help those who may be or become problem gamblers.

MGM’s GameSense program allows players to set limits (but doesn’t enforce them). Caesars’ Project 21 addresses underage gambling, and another program teaches employees to card anyone who looks like they are under 30, as well as a program that teaches them to recognize the problem gambling signs, which they then report to a supervisor. Hard Rock’s PlayersEdge program attempts to educate gamblers with a message that is positive, fun and entertaining. For those who think they may have a problem, the message is supportive and non-judgmental.

It seems that there are lots of conflicting messages in the problem gambling field. When I ask the people administering these programs if they’d sign up for an industry-wide program with common goals and treatment, there is lots of hemming and hawing. They each claim that their corporate cultures are unique and won’t fit into a “one-size-fits-all” solution.

What’s the difference between the NCPG and the ICRG? Research, for one. The ICRG funds independent research into problem gambling and tries to identify the hurdles that effective treatments must overcome. Most of those hurdles have to do with co-morbidity, or the very real fact that people afflicted with problem gambling are also suffering from other addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex or others. That makes the treatment angle, the specialty of the NCPG, more difficult.

One thing the gaming industry—in the United States, at least—has going for it is that its responsible gaming efforts have largely been proactive. Former president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, Frank Fahrenkopf, has said many times that the best thing he ever did while head of the AGA was to get the NCRG (now ICRG) off the ground. He says his nightmare was to see gaming executives sitting before a congressional committee as clueless as the tobacco executives of a generation ago when grilled about smoking.

When I was interviewing Anna Sainsbury, the founder of yet another group dedicated to responsible gaming, Conscious Gaming (see “5 Questions”), she told me under no circumstances should the study or treatment of problem gambling be competitive.

I completely agree with this. While each social organization or public company may have a different approach, we should all have the same goal: the minimization and eventual eradication of problem gambling.

The gaming business in other countries—Canada, the U.K., Australia and others—has suffered because they weren’t prepared to adapt strategies to minimize problem gambling. And when the mainstream media gets hold of the anecdotal horror stories of the few afflicted with the problem, everyone suffers when it could have been identified early on and mitigated.

So let’s stop knocking our heads against each other. Let’s cooperate, share best practices and make sure that people who are enjoying our product for entertainment are our target market. For those who have or may have problems with it, we can help them. And we’d better, because our industry depends on it.

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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