Responsible gaming is not an issue the industry is willing to gamble on. Countless people around the world visit casinos and online gaming web sites daily, and for about 1 percent of those people, gaming isn’t fun.
“We’re in the entertainment industry, and if you aren’t having fun, there are issues that need to be addressed,” said Judy Patterson, senior vice president and executive director of the American Gaming Association (AGA). “Many people have been touched by this problem.”
In the past four decades, the prevalence of problem and pathological gambling hasn’t changed dramatically despite industry growth, but awareness of it has increased greatly.
Representatives from the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG), AGA and the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM) say it’s everyone’s obligation to promote responsible gaming and address problem gambling. The industry organizations are working to keep gaming fun and make sure those who need help get it.
“I think that it’s the responsibility of good corporate citizens to address any issue that affects the industry,” Patterson said.
Understanding the Problem
While most Americans can gamble responsibly, approximately 1 percent of the adult population cannot, according to the NCRG.
“Pathological gambling” is the term used by the American Psychiatric Association to describe the most severe form of a gambling disorder. Labels such as problem gambling are used to describe individuals who are experiencing some adverse consequences as a result of their gambling but do not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of pathological gambling.
As stated earlier, the prevalence of pathological and problem gambling in the U.S. has not increased despite industry growth. The number of states with commercial casinos has increased tenfold in the last 20 years, but pathological and problem gambling in the U.S. is roughly the same today as it was 30 years ago, according to research compiled by the AGA.
In fact, the prevalence rate of problem and pathological gamblers in the U.S. has dropped since 2001.
Pathological gambling was first recognized as a mental health disorder in 1980, and since then, researchers have focused on learning more about gambling addiction. The NCRG lists the following as some of the most important information learned through research in the last 30 years:
• No one gambling activity is more risky than others.
• People with gambling disorders experience problems like financial debt, withdrawal symptoms and personal and professional problems.
• People with other psychiatric and addiction disorders are especially vulnerable to developing a problem with gambling. Individuals with family members who have any kind of addictive disorder are also at a high risk.
• People who gamble responsibly do it for fun, not to make money or escape from problems.
Multiple initiatives have been put into action by industry organizations to curb problem gambling and increase responsible gaming.
One of the most well-known efforts is Responsible Gaming Education Week (RGEW), held the first week of August each year. The NCRG has partnered with the AGA for more than 15 years for RGEW, which aims to increase awareness of problem gambling among gaming industry employees and customers and promote responsible gaming nationwide.
Responsible gaming was one of the first issues the board of the AGA addressed after its creation in the mid-90s, Patterson said.
Educational brochures, training kits, broadcasts, videos and a code of conduct for responsible gaming are just some of the efforts of RGEW.
“This is a unique opportunity for the industry to gather and use the latest science-based information to educate their employees and patrons about ways to gamble responsibly and where to seek help if there is a problem,” said Christine Reilly, the senior research director for the NCRG.
Besides partnering with the NCRG for RGEW, the AGA also created a code of conduct for responsible gaming and the Responsible Gaming Statutes and Regulations handbook.
The AGA Code of Conduct for Responsible Gaming, created in 2003, is a pledge to promote responsible gaming in every aspect of the casino business. The code was updated in January to reflect changes in the industry.
The Responsible Gaming Statutes and Regulations handbook, first published in 2008, details how state regulatory bodies approach responsible gaming.
The handbook is a compilation of statutes and regulations regarding responsible gaming in 20 states with commercial casinos. Regulations are divided into seven general categories including: alcohol service; credit and cash access; funding and revenue sharing; self-exclusion; signage, help lines and advertising; training and education; and miscellaneous. It also includes information on the legal age to gamble in each of the 20 states.
Patterson said an updated handbook is expected to be released this month (April) since more states have come online since its publication five years ago.
The need for “sound research” is one of the reasons that the AGA created the NCRG in 1996, Patterson said. The NCRG funds research that helps increase the understanding of pathological and youth gambling and finding effective methods of treatment for the disorder.
Patterson calls the creation of the NCRG a “hallmark” in industry efforts to increase awareness and education of problem gambling.
The NCRG uses scientific research to understand gambling disorders and responsible gaming. “Science ensures that conventional wisdom about gambling addiction does not rule public debate and allows for rigorous evaluation of responsible gaming practices,” Reilly said.
The NCRG has found that the most effective way to address the issue of gambling disorders involves high-quality research and real-world applications of that research.
The NCRG and AGA have also partnered since 2001 to produce Responsible Gaming Quarterly, a free online publication that examines the latest news and analysis related to gambling disorders and responsible gaming.
Every year, the NCRG conference is co-located with G2E and regularly features sessions on responsible gaming, Reilly said.
On the manufacturer’s side, responsible gaming efforts are strong too, and they work with AGA and NCRG to increase awareness and raise funds.
“I can’t speak for all suppliers, but through AGEM, we are regularly educating our membership and encouraging each company to be proactive on this issue,” said AGEM’s Executive Director Marcus Prater.
AGEM joins with JCM Global and the AGA annually to host the AGEM-AGA Golf Classic to fundraise for the NCRG. The 2012 tournament raised more than $133,000, and since it began in 1999, it has raised more than $1 million for the NCRG.
Prater further explains the organization’s involvement in responsible gaming efforts: “AGEM has had a responsible gaming component to its mission statement from the very beginning, and we contribute by directly giving financial support every year to all of the main responsible gaming bodies—the NCRG, the National Council on Problem Gambling, the Nevada Council on Problem Gaming, The Problem Gambling Center, GamCare in the U.K. and Europe, as well as various conferences and events both in the U.S. and overseas. By contributing hard dollars, we are able to arm these groups so they can be most effective.”
Programs for Those with a Gambling Disorder
Myriad programs exist to help people who have a gambling disorder. Programs within the industry and outside of the industry provide people with gambling disorders the tools they need to get healthy.
“Pathological gambling is a treatable disorder,” Reilly said. “Research shows that self-help groups such as Gamblers Anonymous, talk therapy with a professional counselor, self-exclusion programs, medication and treatment of underlying disorders that might be causing excessive gambling all can be effective roads to recovery.”
While research shows that approximately 1 percent of the U.S. adult population is diagnosed with pathological gambling, only 7 to 12 percent of this group seeks treatment, she said.
Resources that people can access in case they don’t want to seek professional help for their gambling disorder are available online.
One of these tools is “Your First Step to Change,” a guided, self-help toolkit designed to help individuals concerned about their gambling behavior determine if they should seek treatment. The resource was developed with support from the NCRG and the Massachusetts Department of Health.
The NCRG recently released the Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen (BBGS), which is a confidential three-question survey that helps people decide whether to seek formal evaluation or treatment of their gambling behavior. Later this year, the NCRG will also release an online screening and brief intervention program aimed at reducing gambling-related problems among college students.
Reilly says the NCRG also encourages people to call the National Problem Gambling Helpline if they would like to speak to someone about their gambling problem.
Prater points to the Problem Gambling Center in Las Vegas, a non-profit, outpatient clinic for people with a gambling disorder, as an example of an organization that directly helps people affected by problem gambling.
He hopes more programs like the Problem Gambling Center are created.
“I’ve sat in on a group session there, and it’s a cross section of our society. Dr. Rob Hunter (clinical director of the Problem Gambling Center) and his team produce real results that get people back on track and help turn their life around,” Prater said. “Certainly there are also other states and organizations that assist the actual person with the problem, but we can always do more.”
While there is more to do, much progress has been made in the problem gambling and responsible gaming awareness arena.
“Thanks to the high quality of research and information that has been supported by the NCRG, we have made some very significant advancements in our understanding and awareness of gambling disorders in the past 17 years,” Reilly said.
When the NCRG was founded in 1996, the field of gambling research was undeveloped, she says.
“From the beginning, both the industry and academic communities wanted a better understanding of gambling disorders and responsible gaming,” Reilly said.
NCRG-funded research has resulted in a number of advances in the field, including the first reliable estimates of how many people have a gambling disorder; the first significant evidence for a genetic component of gambling disorders; the first national study of gambling and gambling policies on college campuses; and new instruments for measuring, screening and diagnosing pathological gambling and treatment outcomes.
“As the field of research grows, we’ll all benefit with a greater understanding and more resources,” Reilly said.
Prater has similar sentiments. “I think everyone is in agreement that the industry has made tremendous progress on this issue, specifically over the past 15 years, thanks to the work done by the AGA, AGEM and the individual organizations that cover the main segments of research, education and treatment,” he said. “This was not an organized effort until the mid-1990s, and so we’re on a very good path now.”
I-Gaming and New Challenges
With the introduction of i-gaming and technology advancing rapidly, new opportunities and challenges arise for the industry.
Technological advances can benefit people affected by problem gambling since there are new opportunities for interventions and programs to maintain recovery, Reilly said.
“However, not all will succeed; testing is vital to ascertaining the safety and effectiveness of such programs. Furthermore, facial recognition at a casino, for example, might not be a cost-effective investment,” she said. “Research indicates that the act of self-excluding is more important for the individual with a gambling disorder than the enforcement of trespassing regulations.”
Some scientists and clinicians are concerned about some of the features unique to Internet gaming—for example, social isolation and 24/7 access, Reilly shared.
However, she cites research from Harvard Medical School that indicates that online gambling is no riskier than traditional forms of gambling.
“The challenges for i-gaming are to harness the technology to develop effective interventions and responsible gaming practices in consultation with scientists and to be willing to allow scientists to test these practices,” she explained.
Prater says using technology to address problem gambling will continue to evolve.
For example, some jurisdictions already ask that the technology inside a slot machine help manage this problem, he said.
“I think some of things being discussed will be effective and others will have a more limited impact,” Prater said. “Just like other technology initiatives, we will keep coming up with ideas with the goal of making a difference for the good. As i-gaming continues to grow, certainly technology will play a big role in addressing this issue.”
The AGA, NCRG and AGEM intend to continue to band together to keep gaming fun and increase awareness of any problems the industry faces.
“I think everyone involved in the gaming industry, from slot manufacturers to the change person on the casino floor, has a responsibility to pay attention to problem gambling issues,” Prater said. “Pathological gamblers create personal suffering for themselves and their families and bring negative attention to the industry and we should be concerned about all of that.”