We’ve called our business “casino entertainment” for many years, but who would have ever imagined that organizations like Disney, DraftKings and the NFL would become our partners? Yet it has come to pass, so maybe we need to make it more clear to these newcomers what it means to be members of this industry.
First of all is social responsibility. The gaming industry has had a questionable image to overcome from the days that organized crime was involved when it was an illegal enterprise, and even after it became legal. It’s something the industry has worked hard to overcome, and with the help and advice of important people through the years, the industry is now seen largely in a positive light, if you take any stock in a recent survey produced by the American Gaming Association. More than 70 percent of Americans think gaming is a positive for the American economy. Over 90 percent believe it’s an acceptable form of entertainment. And 70 percent believe gaming behaves responsibly as an industry. That’s a far cry from the early days of legalized gaming and a monumental achievement when you consider the negative press gaming often receives.
But let’s not be naïve. This positive view could quickly change if any of these newcomers don’t live up to the high standards of community involvement and responsibility. One needs only to look at the flurry of advertisements surrounding sports betting to realize that this could be a chink in the armor. When you can’t watch any kind of sporting event without being bombarded by messages to place your bets, that begins to irk some folks. And didn’t the daily fantasy sports companies learn this lesson early on? The backlash was brutal, with states suddenly realizing they had never legalized DFS and then banning it. While sports betting has been legalized in many states, legislators could easily return to the issue and reign in some of the freedoms operators now enjoy.
And how about responsible gaming, or as we’re now calling it, safer gaming? Just plastering the 1-800-GAMBLER number on every piece of advertising isn’t enough. The established gaming companies know that a dedication to protecting those vulnerable to gambling problems goes far deeper. Early on, the AGA established the International Center for Responsible Gaming (ICRG) to research problem gambling and come up with some solutions to prevent it. They contributed millions without knowing how it would turn out, because they gave the researchers complete indepedence. Today, many of the recommendations of the ICRG are in use, but the industry understands we’ve just scratched the surface.
Much more investment is necessary to determine if self-exclusion actually works, or how you can limit time on gaming devices without impacting those who have no problem with casino entertainment and many other issues. The GameSense program that started in British Columbia and spread to Massachusetts and then was adopted by MGM Resorts is a start, but it’s in its infancy. We need much more study and research to find out if it really works. The newcomers to the industry have to step up to the plate. And it’s not just the ICRG, it’s other organizations like Conscious Gaming, GamCare, the National Center for Problem Gambling and other groups that are doing good work on a shoestring budget. Where are the networks? How about the professional teams? It’s time to pitch in and do your part.
Casino entertainment began to receive greater acceptance to the general public when they realized casinos were not just about gambling. They are experiences that touch every form of leisure, from fine dining to retail to spas and pools to high-quality shows and artists. Mobile sports betting and online gaming don’t have the advantage of a physical location where you can offer all those amenities, but it should still be about the experience.
Don’t just take a bet and pay a bet. Create a community, like Penn National Gaming and Barstool Sports are trying to do. Be inclusive with your customers and don’t just milk them for every last dollar. Make them want to come to your site because they can enjoy the experience and feel like they’re a part of something bigger and better.
So to the newcomers to the industry, welcome. It’s a great business, but only if you have great vision and a clear understanding that the responsibility to operate with ethics and compassion is important. Don’t screw it up.