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School of Hard Knocks

Why the Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking has always been such anathema to me

School of Hard Knocks

When I was going to college, I was often flummoxed by how little many of my professors knew about the real world. I remember I had one prof who didn’t even understand how to use public transportation (my primary means of moving around at the time). Another was completely ignorant about how students paid for college (he claimed they simply showed up in his class, so why should he worry about how the got there?). And I actually had a journalism teacher who refused to let us write on the early computers (Apple II in my case), insisting that we use typewriters.

So I grew up with what I believe is a healthy disrespect for pure academicians. Full disclosure, however: while I attended college I never received the sheepskin, and my career seems to have trundled along just fine without it and without the “advice” that some of my professors tried to pass along.

That’s why the Conference on Gambling and Risk Taking has always been such anathema to me. I truly enjoy many of the topics and my interaction at the conference with many brilliant people, but I always run across those so-called experts who have no real-world experience in gaming and are forever separated from the real world.

That was decidedly not the case with the founder of the conference, Dr. Bill Eadington, whose ability to build a bridge between higher education and the gaming industry was unmatched. Since there was no connection at all when he developed the first institute to study gambling at the University of Nevada Reno more than 40 years ago, he had to show gaming executives how more education would benefit them. And he did that very astutely until his death last February.

Last month’s 15th conference was the first time it has been held in four years (and the first time without Eadington), so I was looking forward to the event for the solid research, eclectic topics, and sometimes interesting, sometimes downright boring speakers. Others apparently were also interested in attending, and the conference set a new record with nearly 500 attendees.

But I found that my disrespect for those pure academicians has only grown. Now, I’m the first to admit that more attention from the academic world can only be good for gaming. More programs, more courses and more people entering the field at those high levels of education elevate the respect shown for the industry.

But part of my problem is the so-called research that is being perpetrated at institutions in the name of “responsible gaming.”

In both Canada and Australia, a cottage industry has sprung up to study problem gaming in each country. These studies are fueled by government funding that would be the first to dry up if the results showed that problem gambling wasn’t as serious as they first indicated, or that it was shrinking to a manageable level. In fact, these “studies” consistently find increasing problems with people unable to gamble responsibly. Should they come to any other conclusion, of course, they’d risk shrinking of government funding of these studies, and therefore, the very liveliehood of many of these “researchers.”

Unfortunately, some of these studies were given a bit of prominence by being permitted to be presented at the CGRT. When the NCRG holds a conference, all research must be peer-reviewed and vetted multiple times with multiple certifying organizations. By not holding their presenters to stricter standards, the CGRT is playing a role in diminishing important and legitimate research into the gaming industry by highlighting sloppy and biased studies.

This is not to say that the CGRT was packed with useless presentations; it wasn’t. Most of the sessions revealed studies that were well thought out and professionally designed. But in many cases, even these worthwhile studies seem to have suffered from a lack of real-world experience, breaking down complex data to column after column of dense numbers that only an academic could understand. I doubt many casino executives would have comprehended or even respected the efforts.

I’m hoping that the next time the CGRT is conducted the conference chairs will try to eliminate the dubious studies and concentrate on research that would have a true application in the real world. A little less ivory tower and a little more corner bar.


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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