Give Us A Night & Give Us A Day

Responsible gaming is a priority for every major gaming company these days. Every company has a corporate-level executive responsible for ensuring their organization has a progressive and positive approach to responsible gaming. But that’s not enough, according to gaming observer Richard Schuetz (l.). Let’s see the CEOs get involved for a change, even if just for a day.

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Give Us A Night & Give Us A Day

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” —Peter Drucker

The state of Nevada has generally been the incubator for all things gambling in the United States. The regulatory model that’s common to the country is a model developed in Nevada. The design elements of casinos around the world were shaped and developed within the four corners of the state, and most notably in Las Vegas. Many of the games offered in regulated casinos around the country owe their essence to being offered and introduced in Nevada. It’s hard to look into any gambling jurisdiction and not find executives, managers and employees with roots in Nevada.

Unfortunately, much of the industry also owes its lack of attention to the issue of problem gambling to the precedent set by the state.

Until 1978, Nevada was the only state in the U.S. that offered legal casino gambling, and this fact led to a great many people coming to Nevada to frequent the casinos. This strong visitation continues today; the state of approximately 3 million people receives something in the neighborhood of 56 million tourist visits, and many of those visits are about casinos. This is a good thing for Nevada, because it creates substantial tax revenues and allows a portion of the problems associated with gambling to be exported back to the hometowns of the visitors.

Nevada is like the industrial plant located on a river, which dumps its waste into the water to drift downstream to other jurisdictions. That’s what happens whenever the gambling tourist suffering harm gets back in a car or plane to head home.

Beyond the tendency of Nevada to export many of the negative attributes associated with problem gambling to other jurisdictions, the state also has a reputation for dumping on the problem gamblers who reside within its borders. Former Governor Brian Sandoval reached into the bag of monies earmarked for problem gambling and grabbed a handful of cash to use in other areas during the Great Recession. The present governor, Steve Sisolak, asked the legislature for a healthy budgetary increase in funds for problem gambling, and the Nevada legislature shut him down. There just seems to be a very small appetite by the state’s political leadership to address the issues surrounding problem gambling in Nevada, and this model seems to be copied in many other jurisdictions.

The National Council on Problem Gambling’s (NCPG) 2016 National Survey of Problem Gambling Services revealed that nine states and Washington D.C. provided no funds for problem gambling. Between 2013 and 2016, eight states cut funding, and seven states remained level—a strong indication the politicians are more interested in adding tax dollars they can spend or collecting more political contributions, and are relatively indifferent to worrying about the people harmed by gambling.

One of the challenges in gaining support for problem gambling is the fact that there are no lobbyists in the problem gambling community organizing fundraisers for politicians, employing or supporting politicians’ family members or writing campaign checks. This means the politicians simply do not embrace the issue. Nor does the industry seem to deploy its lobbyists on such a mission, for it appears the industry thinks it has bigger fish to fry, namely protecting the industry’s cost-side exposure.

There does seem to be a change underway, however. Across the pond, many operators in the U.K. and EU are facing the wrath of an inflamed press over both real and perceived excesses by the gambling industry. This press has demonstrated a license to shift the public perception of gambling operators, suggesting the operators are totally cool with destroying peoples’ lives if it increases the bottom line.

Moreover, the press and some government officials are working to convince people that these companies are also involved in schemes to get their hooks into the youth of the world, to ensure future profits. As a result of these real, perceived or fabricated threats, regulatory agencies and governments are sticking their noses more deeply into the operators’ businesses. As a result, revenues, margins and behaviors are being subjected to greater scrutiny and risk.

U.S. operators are not blind to the reality across the pond, and seem to be alive to the potential that this trend may migrate to this side of the Atlantic. Moreover, the greater adoption of the internet as a delivery system for gambling products in the U.S. seems to be bringing about a heightened risk of greater harm. Also, with the greater utilization of artificial intelligence, and the massive amounts of data generated in the gaming space, more efficient models of increasing player engagement are working to extract greater amounts of time and money from bettors, and these tools carry with them a greater risk of inflicting harm to the vulnerable. The internet has also opened up an abundance of routes and techniques to target children, often in ways about which parents are oblivious.

In the United States, I would suggest we are presently experiencing an industry position of cosmetic engagement on problem and responsible gambling. This cosmetic phase is a form of political correctness, where the firms will send some money to problem gambling efforts, give some wonderful speeches and written statements about the firm’s commitment, have a member of the firm’s management team engaged in the problem gambling ecosystem, and that’s that. What’s missing is actual engagement by industry leadership in the infrastructure that exists to understand and mitigate gambling harm.

I believe the time is now to move from this cosmetic engagement phase to a phase of true leadership engagement. One of the reasons for this transition is that it’s the right thing to do. Of greater importance is the notion that it’s critically important to address this problem if the industry wants to protect its brand and be sustainable.

In my many years in the casino industry, I learned to not listen to what leaders said, but rather watch what they did. As a manager and vice president in many casino environments, I would hear a leader say we wanted to please both our shareholders and guests. I also noticed we spent a fortune tracking financial performance, and did little to track the guest experience. Moreover, I had to write a great many more memos and reports about financial performance than I did about guest satisfaction.

The point is, it’s more telling to see how a leader walks than how he or she talks. And one of the things that’s quite noticeable is that few industry leaders walk into conferences aimed at addressing problem gambling. Until this begins to happen, the U.S. industry will be trapped in the cosmetic phase, and this is a risky place to hang out. While the cosmetic phase is important, especially with providing funding towards problem and responsible gambling, it’s not the end-all be-all.

I’ve had the opportunity in the past to attend a number of NCPG annual conferences. Sometimes I spoke, but the important things at these events happened when was when I was listening. I heard incredibly committed researchers and treatment professionals discuss the reality of problem gambling, and it was fascinating. Leaders in responsible gambling from around the world shared their programs, some of them light years ahead of what we’re doing in the U.S. It taught me things I did not know, and it introduced me to a network where I could go with my questions. These open and honest discussions were sometimes uncomfortable, but never hostile. In short, it made me a better and more responsible professional in the industry.

I’ve also noted at these events that there was a shortage of top-tier executives and regulators present, and if one did show up, it was usually something of a drive-by experience—that is, the “big deal” showed up, gave a talk, maybe stayed for lunch, and then disappeared, on to bigger and more important things. I believe this cameo approach is truly symptomatic of the cosmetic approach, and I believe the cosmetic approach needs to become a relic of a bygone era. It needs to be replaced by true leadership, and true leadership demands engagement.

The point I’m trying to make to the leaders of the industry is, don’t just call yourself a leader, but be one.

To those people who choose to identify as leaders, this year’s annual conference for NCPG is in Washington D.C., July 23-25. Please mark your calendars. While it would be great if you could attend the whole event, what is being requested is that you give us a night and give us a day. The night will be Thursday, July 23rd, and it will be at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. The point of this exercise is for you to relax, put the phone away and visit with many of the people who comprise the backbone of the problem gambling effort in this country. The next day is Friday, July 24th, and the point of this day is to sit and listen. Hear what’s being said and hear what’s being done, and during the breaks and lunch, talk it up with other people at the conference.

As a special session that afternoon, a select group of the leadership attendees will have the opportunity to be on a special panel moderated by Roger Gros. This will allow the leaders to articulate their plans for true leadership engagement in the responsible gambling space, and its importance in creating a sustainable industry as we all move forward together.

I look forward to seeing you all in Washington D.C. in July.

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.