NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Words into Action: Responsible Gaming and its Impact on the Casino Floor

Glenn Christenson, chairman of the Nevada Governor’s Problem Gambling Advisory Committee, opened today’s session by asserting that problem gambling is one of the most important issues facing the gaming entertainment industry, but that with that challenge comes the opportunity to be proactive in educating employees and patrons about responsible gaming.

Bill Bingham, vice president of table games at Bellagio Hotel and Casino, began the discussion with a brief overview of the evolution of the response to problem gambling in the state of Nevada. According the Bingham, As late as 1994, the industry in Nevada, with the exception of one or two forward-thinking companies, weren’t doing anything in the realm of responsible gaming. There was no signage or employee training, and at the same time, the issue wasn’t a big one in the public eye, so there was no media pressure to focus on the issue.

In 1995, with the formation of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, gaming companies began to post signage and provide collateral material to employees and patrons that included information on how to get help for a gambling problem. These actions were taken before there were specific regulatory requirements to do so. The American Gaming Association then created the AGA Code of Conduct, which pulled together national best practices for responsible gaming and other responsible operating practices. According to Bingham, the AGA Code of Conduct meets or exceeds all state regulatory requirements.

Michael Tunney, regional learning and development manager for Boyd Gaming Corporation, explained the practices Boyd Gaming Corporation has put in place. One of the important challenges Boyd faced, said Tunney, is the fact that the company operates properties in several states throughout the U.S. This means that the regulatory requirements for responsible gaming practices can differ greatly, making it hard to create a standard training program for employees.

Tunney explained that Boyd met this challenge by taking the best practices from all its different jurisdictions and regulatory environments and combining them into one program that is used at all their properties throughout the country. The only exception, he said, is self-exclusion programs, which differ from state to state because they are very complicated to put into place, and in states where regulators are not involved in helping run the program, it is incredibly difficult for a company to run these types of programs on its own.

Tunney said that Boyd includes responsible gaming training as part of its orientation package, and now is examining the possibility of a staged training process, in which employees will receive additional training as they move up the ladder and take positions with greater responsibility within the company.

In his presentation, Dr. Robert Ladouceur, professor of psychology at Laval University in Quebec, asserted that interventions need to be focused on excessive gambling habits – spending too much time and money gambling – pointing out that what constitutes an excessive gambling habit will be different for different people. Ladouceur went on to recommend setting up policies and practices that will prevent problem gambling.

In creating these programs, said Ladouceur, it is important to keep in mind two basic principles: (1) the final decision to gamble belongs to the individual, and (2) the decision to gamble must be based on informed choice. He emphasized that the gaming industry’s role is to help inform the individual’s choice. He also stressed that casinos should avoid using intrusive or imposed measures because these approached may actually produce a negative effect, increasing the problem. He added, “These employees are not doctors or therapists,” saying they should be trained to educate patrons, but they are not trained to provide professional counseling. He said he sees future research exploring the line defining the casinos’ realm of responsibility.

Ladouceur went on to discuss findings from a few studies showing that employee training can help employees be more informed about responsible gaming, but suggesting that refresher courses may be needed at more frequent intervals to ensure long-term retention. In addition, he spoke to the attendees about the importance of evaluation, saying “Don’t spend any money on these programs if you don’t intend to evaluate, because if you can’t tell if it’s being effective, you’re part of the problem.”

For gaming companies looking for a scientific evaluation of their programs, Ladouceur recommended the following requirements: the scientist must be competent and have good credibility; the scientist also should be able to work well with various groups of people; the scientist should having different if not conflicting interests; the scientist must be objective; and the scientist must not have an anti-gambling bias.

From the scientist’s perspective, the company seeking an evaluation: must show a real commitment in responsible gaming; provide access to its data relevant to responsible gaming; be ready to modify some of its practices according to the results obtained by the study; and provide long-term funding support, meaning that research and evaluation take time and the company has to be willing to commit the resources to ensure a thorough and meaningful evaluation.


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