Data! Data! Data! And the Cost of Flying Blind

As the coronavirus pandemic grinds on, thought are naturally on when can we open again. But each state needs to evaluate the data surrounding those decisions and how workers can be kept safe.

Data! Data! Data! And the Cost of Flying Blind

“Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion”

—Edwards Deming


It was Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation, Sherlock Holmes, who cried impatiently: “Data! Data! Data! I can’t make bricks without clay.” Never have truer words been spoken than in this age of coronavirus.  We need data. We need it now, and lives depend on it – our lives.

I am not a big fan of policy by prayer, but I believe we have seen a lot of it lately.  I believe the decision of many politicians and regulators to leave the casinos open was a policy based on prayer, and this becomes a concern because I also believe that regulators and politicians are more concerned with keeping the industry happy than the employees of that industry. I believe I saw this when the politicians and regulators opted to risk the lives of a lot of front-line employees by having them go to work and exchange air, money, cards, and chips with people who may have been carrying a very contagious and potentially deadly disease.  I believe the people who made the decision to send these people to work had no idea as to the risk involved.  It was policy by prayer.

The states need to react right now to affect measures that will allow us to avoid embarking on another round of policy by prayer. We need data and we need it now.

One of the main things we need to capture from the infected victims is a best guess as to the contact source of the disease, and this can often be determined by understanding the occupation of the victim and the locations the victim visited. Then, if we see a higher incidence among nurses, the police, casinos workers, or some other profession, we can react appropriately. This sort of information could be critical in shaping protections and safeguards for these people and for forming an evidence-based public policy as the states go forward.

I am sure there will be folks who will suggest we cannot capture this information for a variety of reasons, and I get that the health authorities are presently overwhelmed.  But there is not a health authority on the planet who will want people placed in harm’s way because of uncertainty brought about by not being able to collect the appropriate and necessary data. Get a local university involved if need be, for all hands should be willing to help in getting us through this pandemic.

There also may be folks in government, regulation, and/or in the industry who may not want this information in the public domain, especially if the casinos are identified as a petri dish for infection and a vector for transmission. It certainly would not be the first time that a government or industry did not embrace the concept of transparency.

The reality is this data collection needs to be done.  Right now, the states can give a good guesses at the damage done to their budgets by this pandemic.  The business firms can talk with some precision as to the lost revenues and profits, at least in the short-run. But no one seems to understand how it may imperil certain groups, such as front-line casino employees, and there are a lot of people who sit in reasonably safe offices interested in getting them back on the job.

As this pandemic continues, there will be more and more pressure applied to get the casinos open, especially in the bigger gaming states. It only seems fair that this decision involves a calculus of not only the financial and fiscal implications, but also the real life implications on the health of the people who handle the day to day operating reality of these casinos.  Moreover, these people have a right to know from both their employers and government what the potential health implications are of them returning to work.  If the operators, hedge funds, bondholders and the like of the world are demanding the casinos open, it would be nice for the working folks to understand what they are being asked to sacrifice.

Any state that decides to open up the casino sector without having an evidence-based understanding of the risk profile toward the employees is abdicating its responsibility to the citizens, and potentially selling them out for a few dollars more. What needs to be done is that the appropriate databases need to be constructed and this needs to start now.  Otherwise, we will all be flying blind. Our front-line casino employees deserve better

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.