Integrity in Gaming Education

The legalization of sports betting has exposed the lack of understanding that most operators and more importantly, educators, have about the issue. And there are so-called “experts” that have never taken a sports betting wager in their lives and may have unknown loyalties. So beware your sources, suggests gaming veteran Richard Schuetz (l.).

Integrity in Gaming Education

The time is always right to do what is right. 
—Martin Luther King Jr.

There are a large number of educational products presently being delivered in the gambling space and this growth has been heightened by the recent surge of legal sports wagering in the United States. These products include conference presentations and panels, master classes, academic courses, webinars, seminars, and the like; and these products are sponsored by different industry-related associations, conference producing companies, private companies, vendors, marketing affiliates, and institutes of higher education. While there seems no limit to the growth trajectory of these educational opportunities, there does seem to be an apparent absence of ethical codes of conduct that guide these products.

There are a great many people wanting to monetize the new sports wagering space and this can largely be explained by Adam Smith’s invisible hand—the acquisitive itch that drives a market economy. Unfortunately, offerings that represent themselves to be educational efforts often times are not, but rather are efforts at selling a particular product or service. This is unfortunate and those institutions that care about their reputations and brands should work to ensure that the audience clearly understands this possibility. They should also work to mitigate this reputational and brand damage from these efforts to use the pretext of educations as a sales tool.

While the expansion of gambling across the U.S. has been rather deliberate and slow paced since Nevada allowed casinos in 1931, this has not been the case with sports wagering. There has been a land-rush attitude about this form of gambling, with state after state leaping into the space. Moreover, this rush has been characterized by a paucity of people in the U.S. who have any level of meaningful expertise. People who have never worked in a sports book, or regulated this type of gambling, are now selling themselves as experts in the operation, delivery, marketing, and protection of these products.

With the expansion of sports wagering in the U.S. comes a desire by many to understand this new area. Legislators want insight as to what policies and procedures will assist them in achieving the public policy goals of their jurisdictions. People in fields such as law will want to acquire knowledge in the area so as to enhance their marketability and add an additional skill set to their resumes. People within the industry will want to enhance their knowledge in this area both to help ensure the protection of assets and also to better understand product delivery and marketing, and regulators run enormous risks of not understanding all that can go right and wrong in the introduction and delivery of this product.

Given the greatly increased demand profile for this type of education, many are leaping into the educational space to deliver products to these new consumers, and that, in and of itself, is good. With this new supply of products there are risks, however, and these include people who have no earthly idea as to what they are talking about, and people who are financially attached to certain vendors and solutions that introduces a potentially conflict-rich educational environment.

For the consumer of these products there are certain safeguards against the expert who has no earthly idea what he or she is talking about. If the individual has never worked in a book or regulated a book, pay attention if they are discussing regulation, operations, or integrity. You should feel as comfortable with these people in teaching these topics as you would in having bypass surgery from a doctor that has never once operated on a heart. They may have learned to talk the talk, but can materially damage you in trying to walk the walk.

The bigger problem is discovering if the speaker has loyalties that are not readily apparent. With most speakers, a listing of their job title provides great insight. If they are the CEO of a platform company, a marketing company, a geo-location company, or some such entity, one can understand where they are coming from. If they are a regulator, it is also fairly obvious as to their loyalties, with the implicit acceptance they may be preparing to walk through the revolving door. The trick comes from the consultants and lawyers. While they may have worked hard to create the persona of an objective expert, they may be on a company’s payroll, in one form or another, and those listening to this person will have no clue about this relationship. This is dangerous and those within the audience run the risk of being duped; this can then lead to numerous additional challenges as these audience members try and apply this new learning.

The easy solution for the consultants is to mandate that they need to disclose any of their clients that can be relevant to the subject matter. This becomes a bit more complicated for the lawyers for they are guided by standards that can limit their ability to disclose who their clients are. The client can generally release the lawyer from these requirements, and if the client is not willing to do this, and the topic under discussion is potentially relevant to the client’s finances, it seems that the lawyer should self-disqualify himself from speaking.

In 1993 the state of Minnesota introduced a law where doctors needed to disclose their financial relationships with the pharmaceutical industry and this law has been duplicated in several states since. In general these laws address speaking fees, meals, consulting agreements, and the like; and the point is that a doctor’s opinion about a drug can potentially be influenced by these pecuniary inducements. We also find numerous instances where different media outlets have chronicled huge payments to doctors who have then spoken on the benefits of a drug or treatment modality, and there are instances of these occurring in institutes of higher education. These revelations have damaged the brands and reputations of both doctors, certain institutions, and the drug companies. People rightfully feel scammed and deceived when they come to understand that the advocate of a drug also had a financial relationship with that drug company.

The gaming industry is potentially walking down that very path and every entity that presents a webinar, seminar, academic course, conference, or related activity might want to address this issue. In viewing the websites of the usual subjects in terms of industry associations that provide webinars, podcasts, master classes, and the like, none seem to address any ethical guidelines for the speakers at sponsored or produced events. The most noteworthy result of this search seems to be that it is simply not an issue with these associations, and that is unfortunate.

It seems that all of the educational products being offered in the gaming space today are taking place with little concern that the “expert” is touting a product that has rented his or her mouth. I am not suggesting that we need extensive warning labels on each speaker, but I am suggesting that we need a reasonable effort to disclose pecuniary relationships. For the lawyers, if not granted the right by the client to disclose, they should not be speaking on a topic if disclosure would suggest the possibility of a conflict. One would hope that the folks who sponsor and produce these educational products would become alive to the risk of mimicking the situation between the drug companies and some medical professionals, who seem to be all too willing to sell their soul to line their pockets.

If the gambling industry is to prove to be a sustainable industry it needs strong ethical standards in all aspects of its operation. In the area of gambling education, these ethical guidelines appear to be missing. This should be rectified before the behavior of a few can damage the brand of the industry.

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.