One of the first documents we produced when we opened the doors of the American Gaming Association (AGA) was called “Myths and Facts about the Gaming Industry.” It was a fairly lengthy document.
Our industry was experiencing its first significant national expansion, and critics were accusing casinos of every ill imaginable. They claimed, with no evidence, that the gaming industry was still “mobbed-up,” responsible for crime waves, individual bankruptcy, business failures, divorce, child abuse, alcoholism and the general decline of communities wherever a casino opened. One critic even claimed that the opening of a casino in his Colorado town resulted in a 50 percent decline in the town’s mule population. (He may have had a point - a tourist driving his car to a casino hit and killed one of the two mules in town.)
There are many reasons most of the claims made in 1995 are only faint whispers today. The biggest reason, of course, is that the dire predictions of those days have proven untrue in community after community that has welcomed casino gaming. A contributing factor, however, was a decision made by the leaders of the nation’s gaming industry to embrace transparency. When the industry created the AGA, I was directed to use the resources of our association to bring the industry’s message to audiences in Washington and across the nation. Underlying that mission was a commitment to openness.
In pursuit of that commitment to openness, we commissioned a number of studies by the top consulting firms in the country to develop concrete numbers on the economic impact of the industry. We also engaged the media and began compiling statistics and other information on the gaming industry that we made available to the public.
Our commitment to openness proved beneficial in 1997 when opponents of gaming succeeded in passing a law creating the National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC). Gaming opponents were euphoric, expecting a friendly commission that would prove their case. We knew that as long as the study was fairly conducted, the industry had nothing to fear. That turned out to be the case, and in June of 1999, the NGISC issued its report, which we use to this day to dispel some of the old myths that refuse to lie quietly in their grave.
I am reminded of this history because gaming expansion is beginning to resurrect many of the old charges against our industry and even generate some new ones. As these new charges come, it is important that we maintain our policy of openness. The newest approach by gaming opponents is to claim that the elements that make slots attractive to casino patrons are also addicting more people.
I suspect critics are targeting slot machines because they have become so popular and because the myths surrounding the machines provide good fodder for their claims. Critics accuse the industry of duping patrons by rigging the machines and of perpetuating myths such as:
- There are hot and cold slot machines.
- The more often you see the winning symbols, the closer you are to winning (or the opposite: the house puts the winning symbols up more often so you will lose more money).
- There are “systems” that will lead to winning.
Slot players do enjoy sharing their theories about winning, but the real reason they come to our casinos is the anticipation and excitement of the outcome of a random event.
And, if slots are so addictive, how do critics explain this indisputable fact: there are hundreds of thousands more slot machines in the United States today than 35 years ago when slots were legal only in Nevada; yet, it is settled science that prevalence rates of pathological and problem gambling have remained virtually unchanged during this time. If more slots increased gambling disorders, wouldn’t prevalence rates have increased substantially?
So, there is no evidence to support claims of slots increasing problem gambling. As for industry perpetuation of the myths? We’ve learned over the last 15 years how difficult it is to dispel myths, but we have and continue to try.
Five years ago, as part of the industry-approved AGA Code of Conduct, we printed and widely distributed a brochure that detailed the odds of winning on slot machines, as well as all other casino games. That brochure is available electronically on the AGA website.
This month we released a white paper that provides great detail on every aspect of the slot machine. It includes details about the evolution of slots from the one-armed bandit of the last century to the multi-line electronic machines of today. It covers how the machines are designed and how they work, including what leads to a winning spin. It also details how the games are tested and regulated, discusses the impact slot machines have had on the gaming industry and the social impact slots have had in our communities.
Each year we select a focus for an industry-wide effort to raise responsible gaming awareness, and this year the slot machine will be the focus of Responsible Gaming Education Week. The centerpiece of the week’s activities is a fun, colorful brochure that dispels the myths about slots by describing how machines work and summarizes key points of the white paper for employees and patrons. Both resources are available on the AGA website at www.americangaming.org.
Understanding how casino games work is an important part of responsible gaming, and being open about the inner workings of slot machines is in keeping with the industry’s ongoing commitment to transparency.