Here in Washington, D.C., summer typically heralds a slower pace, as traffic lightens and members of Congress and their staffs head out of town for the summer recess. At the AGA, the summer months are anything but slow, as we gear up for Global Gaming Expo in September and make final preparations for a series of responsible gaming activities taking place across the industry over the next several months.
Chief among these activities is celebration of the first anniversary of implementation of the American Gaming Association’s (AGA) Code of Conduct for Responsible Gaming. When the AGA introduced the code back in 2003, we knew we had created an ambitious set of responsible gaming guidelines for our member companies, and that the true test of the code’s effectiveness would be in its implementation. Now that we’ve had a year to see the code “in action,” I am happy to report the fruits of our labor have been realized. Each of our member companies has taken whatever action has been necessary to enhance their practices to meet the rigorous standards of the code, and these efforts have been met with a great deal of support from our employees, patrons, regulators and members of the media.
Despite – or perhaps because of – the positive feedback we continue to receive on the code, we must not be satisfied with our progress thus far. Built into the code is a provision that specifically calls for each company to conduct annual reviews of its compliance, and first of these annual reviews is scheduled to be complete this September. Annual reviews of compliance with the code ensure the original intent of the document — to make responsible gaming an integral part of our companies’ daily business – continues to be fulfilled through oft-changing times. These compliance reviews will ensure that our responsible gaming programs are as strong and effective 10 years from now as they are today, and I urge AGA member companies to take these reviews very seriously. If even one company fails to maintain the high standards we have established, it can have a negative impact on our entire industry.
Since word of the Code has gotten out, the AGA has been approached by several international gaming groups interested in adopting similar standards in their own countries. As gaming continues to expand around the world, this attention to responsible gaming issues is a positive development. We also continue to encourage other segments of the domestic gaming industry to step up to the plate and adopt similar guidelines as a pledge to their patrons and employees to make responsible gaming a priority.
It’s important to note that the Code is not a static document, and we are constantly working with other stakeholders in the industry to enhance our ability to fulfill its provisions. As one example, we are in the process of updating our odds brochure and expanding its distribution. The brochure, available at many AGA member properties across the country, provides to customers information explaining the probabilities of winning or losing at the various games offered by our casinos, directly fulfilling a provision of the code. Updating this important reference tool will expand its use and make it even more helpful for our guests.
Additionally, we anticipate the launch this fall of a new employee training program on responsible gaming. Developed by researchers at the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders at Harvard Medical School with the help of funding from the NCRG, this science-based training program will be the the a cost-effective tool for casinos around the world to ensure that those who are on the front line in this industry — our employees — fully understand the appropriate actions to take to address potential gambling problems.
Program certification will be available for employees who successfully complete the training, and companies will receive certification once a threshold percentage of employees pass the course. It is my hope that companies will eventually view responsible gaming certification as a requirement for employment.
To round out these responsible gaming initiatives, the AGA is gearing up for our eighth annual Responsible Gaming Education Week, set for the first week of August. This year’s event is our most visible and ambitious campaign ever. The theme of the campaign is “We’re Banding Together to Keep it Fun,” a theme that links all our stakeholders – operators, manufacturers, gaming customers, regulators, legislators, treatment professionals and others – in a common effort to promote responsible gaming.
The centerpiece of the campaign will be orange awareness wristbands displaying the message “Keep it Fun.” The wristbands, available in English and Spanish versions, will be individually packaged and accompanied by a card explaining the “Keep It Fun” message, the importance of promoting responsible gaming and how to get more information.
The goal of the program is to have as many people as possible wearing the wristbands so they become a fixture in member properties and communities throughout the week and beyond. The visibility of the bracelets will help remind our patrons that setting a budget and following other guidelines for responsible gaming can help keep gambling fun. It is also a visible reminder of our industry’s ongoing commitment to this issue.
In addition to distributing the bands to employees and customers, some operators also will be selling the wristbands at their retail establishments. This retail element is an ambitious push to broaden the scope of the campaign to include more gaming customers.
This campaign is not limited to AGA member companies, and I encouraging everyone involved in the industry to purchase these wristbands and distribute them to employees and customers before, during and after Responsible Gaming Education Week. The wristbands are available for order from the AGA for $1 apiece, and all proceeds from the campaign will be donated to the National Center for Responsible Gaming. We have learned in the past that we are most effective when we join together, and by “banding together” to promote responsible gaming, we can make a stronger impact than we could alone.