Lessons From Responsible Gaming Education Month

Addressing Responsible Gaming has become a Year-Round Effort and is Yielding Positive Results

Lessons From Responsible Gaming Education Month

The book has closed on September as Responsible Gaming Education Month 2022, and how have we – as a society – been “educated”? What have we – as distinct components of an ever-expanding industry – learned?

Let us count the ways.

Lesson One

The most important lesson is that responsible gaming – or the evolving term of “safer gaming” – is not a one-month-a-year opportunity to feel good, allowing this industry to neglect the issue for 11 months. Indeed, we only have five months to go until Problem Gambling Awareness Month in March, another bite at this apple, another reminder of the importance of problem gambling, and the need for regulators, operators and lawmakers to continually adapt. These two awareness poles on the calendar help ensure that this issue never fades from public consciousness.

Lesson Two

Technology – and the US Supreme Court – have fueled the expansion of gaming over the last five years, but technology is also being harnessed to improve the ability of regulators and operators to identify problem gambling patterns on both a macro and an individual basis, allowing for early intervention. “Responsible gaming” is evolving from a slogan into a very real market opportunity. Providers such as TransUnion are harnessing their technology and their quantitative models to offer predictive analytics that operators can use to learn more about consumer behavior, and to respond. This is also a byproduct of an essential feature of digital gaming: Consumers are no longer anonymous, and their gambling patterns are more discernible.

Lesson Three

While this industry correctly looks forward to how new tools can address this problem, a look backward can also yield some important lessons. The American Psychiatric Association did not identify any form of problem gambling as a diagnosable mental illness until 1981, a time when the legal casino industry in New Jersey and Nevada was already generating billions in revenue.

The growth of insights into the problem and treatment since then has been nothing short of explosive. The definition of gambling disorders has become more precise, while the treatment options have become both more expansive and more humane. In 1984, a New Jersey problem gambler who had embezzled money shot himself in the heart as he was about to be sentenced to prison. Forty years later, compassionate jurists led by Cheryl Moss in Nevada are beginning to embrace Gambling Treatment Diversion Courts as an alternative to prison, and those efforts can be expected to yield results on a national basis in coming years.

Lesson Four

Both regulators and the regulated have put this issue at the center of their agendas. Once upon a time, displaying the worn-out slogan “Bet with your head, not over it” and posting the 1-800-GAMBLER phone number were more than sufficient to pass regulatory muster.

When I was a regulator in the 1990s, the idea of creating full-time regulatory positions for responsible-gaming experts was simply not under consideration. They would not have had much to do. Today, we have experts such as Mark Vander Linden, Director of Research and Responsible Gaming at Massachusetts Gaming Commission, and Liz Lanza, Director of the Office of Compulsive and Problem Gambling at the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, who are in leadership positions at their agencies, and are also serving the national industry on this issue.

On the private-sector side, numerous executives are taking on full-time roles in responsible gaming, and such positions are on genuine leadership tracks. Their work is being taken seriously, and their decisions carry weight and have the imprimatur of their respective boards of directors.

Lesson Five

This may be the least-noticed and potentially the most controversial lesson: Responsible gaming has clearly benefited from the national expansion of gaming, which now encompasses nearly the entire nation in one form or another.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when casinos were limited to a handful of states, those states that offered gaming were able to truly “profit” – in the worst way – from problem gamblers. States such as New Jersey, as well as states that put riverboats on their borders – were able to import dollars from other states, while they were also able to “export” at least some of the downside.

For example, problem gamblers from Pennsylvania or New York who played in Atlantic City did not leave their problems on the Boardwalk. The issues that ranged from bankruptcies to embezzlement took hold in their home states, and those states at that time had neither the resources nor the inclination to identify, fund or address these issues.

Going forward, the expansion of gaming will more likely be met with a concomitant expansion of resources to help address this issue. States are less likely and less able to profit at the expense of their neighbors. Will the expansion of insight and resources be enough? The answer to that question is still out there, and providing that answer will take time, but we are moving in the right direction. In 2021, the industry offered Responsible Gaming Awareness Week. In 2022, that became Responsible Gaming Awareness Month. If that pattern holds, 2023 and every year thereafter will be Responsible Gaming Awareness Year.

Articles by Author: Michael Pollock

Michael Pollock recently retired after more than two decades as Managing Director of Spectrum Gaming Group. He now holds the emeritus title of Senior Policy Advisor. He is a former gaming regulator, award-winning journalist and university professor.