My friend Richard Schuetz wrote a piece for our online GGB News on April 8 titled “Rain on the Parade.” He recounts his early days of working table games for Bill Harrah in Reno and how it was the hottest place in gaming in those days (not so much now). It was a great article, and made some very cogent points (you can find it here).
But it brought back a lot of memories. Like Richard, I used to work the graveyard shift, just not in Reno, in Atlantic City. And while there was a certain allure about coming to work at 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. when the crowd was lively and the beautiful people were hanging out, it was a different story at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. when the makeup had run and the opposite of the beautiful people remained on the casino floor.
At that time of night, you got a large dose of derelicts, downtrodden and disturbed people. I saw lots of people digging deep into their pockets hoping to find another sawbuck but coming up with only lint.
Now, this was Atlantic City in the early ’80s when gaming was still special and players in the wee hours of the morning could slide into seats that weren’t available earlier in the day, so not everyone was a degenerate. But I saw my share of people who clearly suffered from problem gambling.
In his GGB News piece, Richard warns that the American gaming industry must start to address this issue because a backlash could be coming, particularly with the legalization of sports betting, which will certainly attract many players who may not have gambled before. He points to the recent restrictions of gambling advertisements in Europe and the reduction of the maximum bet on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in the U.K. from ₤100 to ₤2, which has put a serious hurt on the betting shops and gaming companies there.
In the mid-1990s, the American Gaming Association supported the establishment of the independent National Center for Responsible Gaming. It was a brilliant move by then-AGA President and CEO Frank Fahrenkopf, who remarked he didn’t want to see casino executives lined up in a federal hearing feeling the wrath of congressmen like they did with the tobacco industry at that time. And it worked for a while.
But what the NCRG has discovered over the years is that problem gambling has a comorbidity with other addictions, making it very difficult to treat any one at a time. So the “cure” for problem gambling is still very elusive.
And while the AGA and other industry organizations and corporations give lots of lip service to problem gambling, there’s no plan to really help people afflicted with this problem because there really is no one answer.
And compounding that issue is the widely published “fact” that 80 percent of gaming revenues come from 20 percent of the customers. A respected casino executive confided to me recently that when you get to the high end of the market, the split is more like 90-10 or 95-5. That is downright scary.
Anecdotal evidence like the recent conviction of New York radio personality Craig Carton and his obvious gambling addiction keep popping up. He reportedly went through millions of dollars—most of it not his own—in a Ponzi scheme that involved many “investors.” He cited the VIP treatment he got at some very recognizable casinos on the East Coast. Carton posted a video confessing to his problems with gambling, yet no one in the casinos recognized it before then? Where were the red flags in this situation for the casinos? Could they not have done something?
These kinds of situations occur much too often. Casino hosts and marketing executives must be more aware of these issues and be prepared to take action. Yes, sometimes you may be driving a valuable customer to another casino, but there has to be a point where “doing the right thing” becomes the most important thing for corporate bigwigs.
For the last few years, Richard performed a great service to the industry by pointing out the lamentable lack of women in the boardrooms and C-suites of gaming corporations and regulatory bodies. That has begun to be addressed.
Richard has become the conscience of the industry. And with the attention he’s now paying to problem gambling and the industry’s tepid response, I find my conscience is a little guilty. Hope that applies to others in this business too.