Responsible Gaming — what does the future hold for our industry?

We have made great progress, now we should broaden our “responsibility” beyond the walls of the integrated resort.

Responsibility is defined as “the state of being liable or called on to answer.” It is the condition under which those deemed “responsible” for something can prove their moral integrity and their ability to account for their actions. 

Responsible gaming directs the concept of responsibility to our industry in particular, fortifying our commitment to safe and fair practices that protect our consumers from harm. 

Responsible gaming is the casino industry’s most direct way to demonstrate that we care about our clientele. It’s time that we take this notion more broadly.

By infusing responsible gaming efforts into our everyday practices, we’re able to remind consumers that gambling is a recreational activity, not a skill or a lifestyle. It’s also a way for us to prove that we’re committed to corporate social responsibility beyond the base level of compliance.

With an estimated net worth of approximately $261B, the casino industry has the means to exude responsibility in each and every brick-and-mortar place, in each and every virtual space, and through each and every decision that we make within our jurisdiction. 

On the Forbes list of the top 100 most socially responsible companies, our industry is not represented yet.

GameSense: a step in the right direction

Recent visible efforts in responsible gaming include MGM’s partnership with BCLC’s GameSense, a responsible gaming program that reminds consumers that gambling is purely recreational; throughout the casino floor, GameSense educates users on gaming best practices and encourages them to exhibit good behavior through positive messaging. 

Since installing GameSense at their brick-and-mortar locations, MGM reports that the number of people who take or read brochures on responsible gaming has doubled. 

Alan Feldman, Distinguished Fellow at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute and MGM senior executive, lauds the program for its effectiveness and encourages other industry members to imbue responsible gaming into their customer service culture, too. Frankly, it looks good for a company to take visible steps to encourage their customers to behave well, and with 90% of the polled public valuing these efforts, MGM seems like the gold standard for how casinos should be running. 

It’s not just the welcome to MGM, what would you like to drink?; it’s the let us know if you’d like to speak to a GameSense employee or we’re opening up a slot machine so we can demystify it for you. It’s the presence of trained GameSense advisors on the casino floor checking in with individuals who have asked to be told when two hours have gone by. 

Data is being collected and analyzed to confirm GameSense actually makes customers behave more responsibly than they would have without it.

In a study led by the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, researchers found 1.7% of customers picked up GameSense print materials when they came across them. Director of Research Dr. Brett Abarbanel explains that of those who picked up the brochures, 85% read through the content.

The IGI has only been actively researching GameSense at MGM for about a year, and their data is limited. MGM is committed to supporting IGI’s work with a $1M research stipend.

In an interview on the success rates of proactive responsible gambling measures, Dr. Abarbanel asks industry members a series of hard-hitting questions: 

  1. Are [preventative] resources available to employees as well as customers, given that employees are a known at-risk population? 
  2. Do companies reach out to their stakeholders, to treatment providers, and to researchers to determine if their efforts make a difference? 
  3. Do they follow up with the National Center for Responsible Gaming to educate themselves on the worst-case scenario for their customers: actual, proven problem gambling disorder?

Implementing proactive programs like GameSense is a step in the right direction toward responsible gaming. Others are also making great progress.

The Diversion Court System as a Role Model of Industry Ethics

The problem gambling diversion court in Clark County, Nevada is perhaps the most socially responsible and morally commendable move that our industry has made thus far. 

It all began in 2015 when Las Vegas attorney Dayvid Figler spearheaded the state’s first-ever implementation of law NRS-458A, a piece of legislation passed in 2009 that approved the use of a diversion court system for people afflicted with confirmed problem gambling disorder. 

Figler successfully fought for his client’s right to participate in the diversion court, one through which she’s been able to pay back tens of thousands of dollars of her debt while receiving professional treatment for her problem gambling disorder. 

One of about two dozen folks in the program, she’s been kept out of prison for her nonviolent financial crimes and given the opportunity to re-establish herself in society, a society that Figler hopes will be completely destigmatized as problem gambling diversion courts become just as standard as those for alcoholics and drug-users. 

This court system has redefined the industry’s commitment to responsibility. Figler saw a chance to go above and beyond the standard of his profession and employ a law that many others had ignored in similar circumstances; Figler believes that up to 300 currently-incarcerated individuals could have qualified for the diversion court, had their lawyers sought action. 

Figler molded the concept of responsibility according to his particular ability, and our industry has improved greatly because of his and others’ actions to implement NRS-458A. In giving nonviolent problem gamblers the opportunity to receive treatment while paying back their debts, Nevada’s diversion system has proved itself a truly exemplary achievement of social responsibility.

Responsible Gaming: Code of Conduct

Our industry has endless opportunities to prove our commitment to responsibility, and the American Gaming Association actively works to improve our competence. 

CEO Bill Miller is a firm believer in his organization’s commitment to responsibility: its Responsible Gaming Education Week advances effective preventative methods against poor behavior while promoting extensive employee education and training on responsibility within the industry. 

The AGA has a specific Code of Conduct in place, a document that elucidates on the “commitment of our members to continue support for research initiatives and public awareness surrounding responsible gaming and underage gambling.” 

Each member of the AGA must abide by this Code of Conduct, including myriad commercial casino operators, tribal casino operators, diversified gaming suppliers, testing labs, transaction systems, and various ally members. Miller explains that the Code of Conduct is a living document, changing all the time to welcome new facets of gaming while still holding industry members to a high ethical standard, especially in this post-PASPA world.

Now, responsible gaming needs to extend to sports-based wagering, a Brobdingnagian new market within the industry. Miller believes that while gaming is a fun and exciting activity, it’s something to be enjoyed by a responsible adult audience, and advertisements for sports betting and more traditional gambling alike need to dissuade vulnerable populations and the youth. 

Eventually, could the Code of Conduct be expanded to ensure that responsibility in the industry becomes ingrained with every aspect of the business? Maybe.

Improving the Industry From Every Angle

Figler has made outstanding strides with his diversion court. Meanwhile, the AGA has a unique chance to revitalize its Code and ensure that all of its members are held to an ethical standard reflective of their organization’s tenets. 

Yet we all have the chance to better ourselves and our practices, and the time to do so is now. Our industry as a whole must look to fill casino spaces with active responsible messaging wherever, whenever, and however possible. 

This will look different depending on each gaming space and operator. In an article published on WBUR, reporter Callum Borchers explains that when it comes to GameSense advisors at MGM, “the job isn’t to conduct on-the-spot therapy.” 

Maybe “on-the-spot therapy” could be considered as a responsible gaming measure. While the gaming diversion court, GameSense, and the code of conduct are innovative approach to responsible gaming, what will the next innovation be?

If brick-and-mortars already plan to involve problem gambling-specific employees in responsible programming, in-house psychologists and counselors could just as easily become a part of the effort. 

These mental health professionals could assess problem gamblers with more authority than a non-expert, and their presence would be ultimately more objective than that of an employee of the casino – their residence would be a boost to general customer service, individual corporate responsibility, and the overall ethos of the industry. 

A Tangible Commitment to Responsibility

Keith Whyte, the Executive Director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, explains that “problem gambling is a preventable and treatable disorder…there’s a huge opportunity in the United States for vendors and operators to step up and say, ‘we want to get ahead of the curve.’” 

Already, the NCPG offers a hotline that received over 220,000 calls last year alone, calls from people experiencing problem gambling disorder firsthand and from people concerned about the risky behaviors of their loved ones. 

Though the NCPG has several resources to which they refer people, an increase in the number of resources available will directly correlate to the number of people who are helped and to the number of addictions that get treated.

Responsible in every aspect of business

Forbes ranks the top 100 businesses for CSR, surveying “more than 230,000 individuals in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States” to garner data for the 2018 list. The researchers considered 140 companies in their study, but no operator made the list. Which gaming operator will be the first to make the top 100? It is only a matter of time before this happens.

Consumers embrace companies with shared-values. People feel good supporting companies whose compassion is verifiable, whose commitment to responsibility is tangible, measurable, and transparent.

Growing from responsible gaming to a responsible company — learning from the best

Patagonia, a clothing retailer based out of Ventura, California, is considered the most socially responsible brand in the world. Although its annual revenue of $209.9M is only .08% of that of the casino/gambling industry, the company is committed to being responsible.

Patagonia’s business model has earned the company a stellar public image, one that’s well-deserved considering all that Patagonia does in the name of transparency, proactivity, and responsibility:

  • Its extensive Code of Conduct outlines its requisite health, safety, and environmental conditions for operation. 
  • Though the company admits that its factory workers don’t all earn a living wage, it has partnered with Fair Trade USA to work towards a solution. 
  • It publishes its factory lists so that all interested parties have access to them for monitoring. 

Moreover, Patagonia is donating its $10M tax cut from 2017 to “groups committed to protecting air, land, and water and finding solutions to the climate crisis.” This isn’t Patagonia’s first major donation – it’s given over $89M to environmental organizations through its 1% for the Planet program, and in 2016 it donated all of its Black Friday sales (another $10M) to environmental charities. 

According to the very definition of responsibility, Patagonia is certainly deserving of its title of most socially responsible: their moral integrity is undeniable, and they constantly account for their actions, whether adverse or not. The company is transparent and detailed in their corporate reporting.

Moving forward, continuous improvement, and redefining responsibility 

If we learn from Patagonia’s example, we can make gaming better — and we can make gaming more responsible. In doing so, our customers will feel well-served and our employees will feel engaged. Our corporate climate will reflect the tenets of our beliefs, and we’ll grow as an industry as a whole. We need to redefine how we use the word responsible and to always push ourselves to conduct our practices in the safest, most ethically-upright ways possible.

This is an exciting time for our industry; our actions toward being “responsible” will speak more loudly when we not only commit to responsible gaming but when we also commit to environmental, social and corporate responsibility. Let’s join together and move our industry towards being responsible in every sense of the word.

Copyright © 2022 Philip James. All Rights Reserved.