Shannon Bybee, current director of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) International Gaming Institute and a professor at the UNLV Hotel College and Boyd School of Law, has been an eyewitness to the gaming industry's entrance into the problem gambling arena. His insights on the evolution of the industry's involvement reveal a history of success, with several challenges still to come.
Bybee's professional experience covers the range of gaming law, operations, regulation and education. As a former member of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, he was instrumental in bringing about the dialogue that led to problem gambling regulations in the state. He first became aware of the need for industry involvement in the issue during his tenure as senior vice president of government affairs for Golden Nugget, Inc., now part of MGM MIRAGETM.
"Steve Wynn had made the first corporate donation to the National Council on Problem Gambling in the '70s, but the industry really wasn't involved in the issue," Bybee recalled. "In 1985, I attended the annual meeting of NCPG in Philadelphia, and I came back from that meeting saying that this was going to be an issue that could greatly affect us. The field was still young, and there was room at the table for us to get involved. I wanted to make sure decisions werenÕt going to be made without input from the industry."
Bybee continued to advocate for increased industry involvement in the problem gambling issue over the next several years, and in 1991, was elected to the NCPG's board of directors. He was the first casino industry representative on the board. Then, as the casino industry expanded to new localities in the 1990s, it began to realize the need for programs to address problem gambling, Bybee said.
"Opponents would ask what the companies were going to do to combat problem gambling in the community," he said. "The industry finally realized it needed an answer."
When Bybee began teaching in 1994, he became the first to introduce problem gambling information into UNLV's hotel college, leading to the eventual adoption of a formal curriculum that is now presented in all Hotel "101" classes. In 1995, Bybee was selected to be the first president of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, as well as a member of the American Gaming Association's Responsible Gaming Task Force.
Bybee said companies must approach problem gambling as an ongoing educational process aimed at both patrons and employees.
"It is important to give patrons and employees tools," Bybee said. "The first tool is education, because you can't help yourself if you don't know you have a problem. We also need to make people less afraid to seek help."
Bybee also touts the need for more research on problem gambling so there is a greater understanding of the issue and its underlying causes. He noted that increased research will lead to the development of the most effective treatment methods, a goal he said has been furthered through the industry's formation of the National Center for Responsible Gaming.
"I am encouraged by the gaming industry's increased awareness and involvement in this issue over the last few years," he said. "This is still a growing process, even in the state of Nevada. But it is in the industry's best interest to keep up this awareness and stay involved."