Since the AGA was founded in 1995, we have taken the reins in the battle against disordered gambling, building on the work that had been spearheaded by industry leaders such as Harrah’s, Park Place and MGM MIRAGE for more than a decade; sharing best practices; directing public education efforts; and developing new and bigger ideas to help us address this issue. Five-plus years later, it’s appropriate to ask where we are and look at where we’re going.
WHERE ARE WE?
Six years ago, we looked at ourselves as an industry and asked what we could do to help address a problem that was a concern to all of us: disordered gambling. Although we knew that the vast majority enjoyed gambling for entertainment, we also recognized that there were some people who did not gamble responsibly. But because we were not medical experts or psychologists, we turned to the scientific experts. We asked them what an appropriate role might be for us. Their answer? Lead public education efforts and fund new scientific research.
Since then, the casino gaming industry has worked diligently to implement an aggressive program that encompasses these two key areas. In the area of scientific research, our pioneering efforts came with the founding in 1996 of the National Center for Responsible Gaming to fund independent research by universities and research centers on disordered gambling. Administering the nation’s only peer-reviewed research grants program focused exclusively on pathological and youth gambling, the NCRG has awarded nearly $3.5 million in support of investigations covering all aspects of the disorder, with pledges of more than $7 million from the industry and related organizations.
This ground-breaking research funded by the NCRG has yielded some of the most important advances in this field to date. The first study found that the prevalence rate of pathological gambling among adults in the United States was approximately 1.29 percent, far lower than gambling opponents had claimed. The findings of this study were confirmed in subsequent research conducted for the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, which actually found the numbers to be even lower. While all of these numbers are relatively small, they are still numbers of concern to all of us.
During the past year, two newly completed NCRG-funded research projects demonstrated great promise in exploring effective treatment options for pathological gambling. The first, by Hans Breiter, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital, used magnetic resonance imaging to compare brain activation patterns in problem gamblers and normal subjects, while the second, by Suck Won Kim, M.D., at the University of Minnesota, examined the use of Naltrexone as a treatment option.
While the AGA set in motion a process through which quality research could receive greater attention and funding, it also put into place a variety of activities that could further the industry’s promotion of responsible gaming nationwide. The “Responsible Gaming National Education Campaign” was developed as a long-term, comprehensive program promoting responsible gaming practices and educating employees and the public about disordered gaming.
Among the many activities undertaken as part of the Responsible Gaming National Education Campaign were the development of voluntary responsible gaming guidelines; creation of the Responsible Gaming Task Force, which worked together to develop a benchmark underage training curriculum and the Responsible Gaming Resource Guide, a compilation of responsible gaming ideas, policies, procedures and programs addressing disordered gambling; creation of a multimedia tool kit with all the components necessary to initiate a comprehensive internal responsible gaming program; spearheaded events such as Responsible Gaming Education Week to encourage the establishment of responsible gaming practices industrywide; sponsorship of seminars; and distribution of educational materials.
Our efforts did not go unnoticed. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission, in its final report, concluded that the casino industry had done more to combat problem gambling than any other segment of the industry — quite an accomplishment given that a majority of members of the commission had admitted to being opposed to gambling.
WHERE ARE WE GOING?
While we’ve made significant progress, we recognize that much work remains to be done. Through the continued implementation of our two-pronged effort aimed at public education and funding for scientific research, the industry remains committed to institutionalizing responsible gaming practices, including creating employee and customer education and awareness programs, as well as expanding our outreach efforts to encompass the general public.
With the transfer of the NCRG’s grant-making responsibilities to Harvard’s Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders, the NCRG will now focus its attention on public education, the other key mission of the organization.
Even with all of these efforts, there remains a challenge that we have yet to overcome: one of public perception. Even with objective scientific studies pegging the prevalence of pathological gambling at about 1 percent, the average American, when asked, will guess that the prevalence rate is much higher than it really is. Losing the battle over public perception — even if it’s not based in fact — provides an opportunity for our opponents to call for increased government intervention. Our own public opinion polling tells us that most Americans expect us, the gaming industry, to take the lead on responsible gaming and prevent illegal underage gambling. Not only do we need to continue to do the things we’ve been doing to address disordered gambling, but we need to let people know about those efforts.
Our industry’s work over the past five years has demonstrated our commitment to addressing disordered gambling in the most effective ways, through funding of independent, scientific research and public education programs. It is only through a sustained effort in these areas — and greater public outreach — that we will be able to improve education, prevention and treatment of disordered gambling.
Combating disordered gambling is important to our business. I urge all of you to continue your responsible gaming efforts in your casinos, and, if you haven’t already done so, join us in our efforts — because we all recognize that one problem gambler is one too many.