As the international gaming community prepares to meet in London for the ICE show, it is appropriate for us to take a closer look at the regulation of our industry on a global level. Due to the fact that gaming expansion and regulation have evolved at different speeds and in different directions around the world, a patchwork quilt of regulations has emerged. Thus far, the industry response to these regulations has been just as varied.
The international gaming community has long been committed to increasing education and funding research on pathological gambling, and I am proud of our individual accomplishments on these fronts. In the United States, the American Gaming Association developed a problem gambling resource guide, allowing individual companies to pick and choose programs that fit their corporate structures, and many international companies have responded in the same manner. But no unified industry voice has emerged. There is no consensus on an approach or how to deal with pathological gambling. Our disjointed response will no longer suffice.
If we are to enjoy continued success and overcome our current challenges, we must begin to work together to develop a coordinated response for the industry within the international regulatory framework. One way to achieve this goal is to develop an industrywide international code of commitment for responsible gaming, which would establish minimum standards to govern the conduct of the international gaming industry in the area of responsible gaming.
Before exploring the potential elements of an international code of commitment, it is important to understand the basis for our current regulatory framework. Howard Shaffer and Richard LaBrie of Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addictions recently conducted an analysis of gaming regulations in the 11 casino states in the United States. Their most important conclusion revealed that scientific research is currently not informing the state regulatory processes in this country, primarily due to the limited amount of research that currently exists on problem gambling. Without research, there can be no best practices.
With no model or scientific measurements of success to follow, regulators have been left to their own devices to develop regulations that target the industry, casinos and people who gamble. The result is a widely divergent array of regulations from state to state, despite the fact that research has shown the prevalence rate of pathological gambling - approximately 1 percent of the population - is virtually identical across all geographic regions in North America.
International studies have found that prevalence rates elsewhere are nearly identical as well, yet the industry abroad is also restricted by a bevy of conflicting and often confusing regulatory systems. The Australian gaming industry is one of the most threatened, with regulators in various jurisdictions targeting everything from the equipment on the floor - removing bill acceptors, reducing bet limits, and slowing down machines - to capping machines, outlawing advertisements, limiting gambling venue hours and increasing the level of taxation of gambling establishments.
Australia can serve as a cautionary tale for the international gaming industry. In that country, the media, rather than the industry, set the agenda for gaming regulation. At first, the industry’s reaction was spasmodic, but recent efforts to coordinate a collective industry response have been more successful. The Australian Gaming Council and Australian Casino Association are now working to repair the damage to the industry that has already been done.
The international gaming community must work together to ensure that the situation in Australia is not replicated. It is more important than ever for the international gaming community to establish best practices in dealing with responsible gaming issues. By establishing a cooperative international code of commitment, we can ensure that the industry, rather than outsiders, sets the tone and creates the model for the regulatory landscape of the future.
The most essential element of an international code of commitment must be its firm foundation in science. The international gaming industry must coordinate efforts with the international pathological gambling treatment and research communities to ensure that the established minimum standards are scientifically viable.
Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc.’s Code of Commitment can serve as a model for the international community. Harrah’s code includes a commitment to guests to promote responsible gaming, a commitment to communities to market casinos responsibly and improve neighborhoods, and an additional commitment tailored to employees. Each section of the code includes a list of specific elements, including existence of a self-exclusion policy and publication of the toll-free problem gambling hot line number.
The international code of commitment will bring social responsibility within the regulatory framework. An early example of the success of this approach can currently be seen in Great Britain. On the heels of the Budd report, representatives from the gambling treatment and research fields are working with the slot machine industry to adopt a formal code of social responsibility that will be regulated by the soon-to-be-formed gambling commission, and regulators have so far been impressed by the levels of cooperation exhibited.
As our industry matures and takes on an even more significant role in the international arena, the global regulatory community will continue to focus on the issue of pathological gambling. We have already shown admirable progress in this area, but the future demands we take the next step. Development of an international code of commitment is the right step to take.