Problem Gambling: Comorbidity & Smoking

As industry veteran and former regulator Richard Schuetz (l.)notes, compulsive gamblers usually are addicted to some other thing—drugs, alcohol, etc.—so what does the lack of a smoking ban in casinos say about the industry?

Problem Gambling: Comorbidity & Smoking

When one asks why there is smoking in casinos, the answer is quite simple—there is money in it.

Smoking most certainly exists as a risk factor for a wide variety of disease profiles affecting casino customers and employees; that is unquestionable. The notion that special non-smoking sections and ventilation systems remove these health threats has been demonstrated as false.

The “leaders” who make the decisions to allow smoking are quick to remind casino employees that if they want to work in an environment where they are not subjected to the numerous toxic substances associated with smoking, they just may lose their jobs. It may not be that direct, but it is clearly the message.

Industry leadership believes that the added revenues attributable to smoking make it worth the health damages experienced by their customers and employees, understanding that the people who make and support these decisions are generally safely ensconced in areas where smoking is not allowed.

When casino executives begin talking about how important their employees are, parroting the standard human resources talking points, it is important for people to remember that they are not so important that if they want to work, they will need to work in an environment that poses a risk to their health. And the politicians in many states are legitimizing the process.

This hypocrisy is repeated when these same executives espouse their strong commitment to working to minimize the harms associated with problem gambling. Allow me to explain.

Comorbidity is a situation where an individual has coexisting diseases. A common example often given is between obesity and a wide variety of other diseases. The greatest comorbidity with obesity is Type 2 diabetes, and a long list of other health conditions follow this health challenge, including high blood pressure, heart disease, apnea and cancer.

There has been a substantial amount of research on problem gambling and comorbidities. These studies have indicated that a strong comorbidity with problem gambling is smoking. In fact, it is generally argued that a majority of people suffering the harms associated with problem gambling are also dependent on smoking.

This research underscores that a casino should allow smoking if it wants to put a welcome mat out for problem gamblers. Again, we see hypocrisy from the C-suites and the politicians.

I have always been fascinated by the suggestion that if a politician or executive favors smoking in casinos, they must be willing to have air of comparable toxicity shipped into their work areas.

What we see with smoking in casinos is a whole series of falsehoods and half-truths. Sure, the executives care about their fellow employees but have no issues with having them work in an environment threatening their health.

Sure, the executives care about problem gambling but want to ensure that the people who suffer from gambling harms will be able to gamble and participate in an environment where they can also enjoy their comorbid smoking habit. And the gaming companies’ partners in all of this are typically the politicians, who are looking for contributions or more tax dollars to spend.

On top of this, we have the myth spreading about the safety of the special ventilation systems and the segregated areas that do not allow smoking. Unfortunately, research carried out in Las Vegas has indicated that this does not safeguard the guests or employees of the facility from being subjected to the diseases and disorders that are associated with second-hand smoke. It seems that the industry wants to believe that if it tells this lie long enough, people will believe it.

Smoking is legal in many casino environments across the United States, but that does not imply that it adheres to an ethical standard of leadership. What we need within the casino industry and the political domain is a demonstration of moral courage, and this moral courage is best exemplified by not being dishonest with casino industry employees and causing them to work in an environment that is not safe in order to keep their jobs.

If the casino industry seriously desires to address the issues that surround problem gambling, it needs to become more honest and morally anchored. It needs to understand the complexity of the issue and use that understanding to move forward in a positive way. It is no coincidence that casinos fight to keep smoking legal and that there is a high comorbidity between gambling disorders and smoking. If casinos continue to put this welcome mat out for the problem gambler, they are part of the problem, not the solution.

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.