When it comes to responsible gaming, we talk a lot about collaboration. Collaboration among gaming companies, collaboration with problem gambling treatment providers, collaboration with researchers, even collaboration with our customers to ensure they have access to the information they need to gamble responsibly or get help if they can’t.
Certainly collaboration is a lofty goal, but what does it really mean, and how is it best accomplished? This was the focus of the sixth annual National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG) Conference on Gambling and Addiction, held last month in Las Vegas, where a trio of international researchers introduced a new practical framework for bringing stakeholders together to develop practical, science-based solutions to disordered gambling.
The NCRG has aimed to do just that since its inception. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the organization now is making another major step to accomplishing that goal by expanding its mission to better coordinate efforts among researchers, treatment providers and the gaming industry.
Although nearly everyone in the gaming industry has benefited from the work of the NCRG, not many people know how the organization got started or the details of what it has accomplished over the last decade. As commercial casinos rapidly expanded across the country in the mid-1990s, communities looked for guidance on how to develop programs and tactics to address problem gambling, but such guidance was lacking.
The dearth of resources exposed the need for research on pathological gambling to increase the amount and level of knowledge of problem gambling, investigate effective treatment methods and inform the development of effective awareness programs. The problem was, back in 1996 existing research on pathological gambling was not always peer-reviewed, and some of the research that existed was seriously flawed.
Having just established the American Gaming Association (AGA) the previous year, we wanted to play a role in reversing this trend. Guided by advice from medical experts and leading researchers, the AGA and industry leaders established the NCRG to fill the void – funding research on disordered gambling and conducting education and awareness programs.
From the beginning, the NCRG introduced a new insistence on scientific rigor into the field by soliciting research proposals from the most respected institutions in the country, using an independent board of established scientists to review proposals.
Today, with the contributions of the casino gaming industry, equipment manufacturers, vendors, related organizations and individuals, more than $15 million has been committed to the NCRG, an unprecedented level of funding for gambling research. These contributions have supported some 30 research projects at more than 20 universities.
Perhaps most importantly, the NCRG has led government institutions to begin making investments in pathological gambling research. Since the creation of the NCRG, NIH has begun offering grants in the field of gambling research, and for several investigators, NCRG support has provided crucial seed money for major grants from that organization.
In 2000, the NCRG embarked on an historic collaboration with Harvard Medical School, one of the world’s pre-eminent institutions in medical research and education, to establish Harvard’s Division on Addictions to establish the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders to carry out the scientific and grant-making functions previously performed by the NCRG.
Around that time, the NCRG determined to expand its mission to include outreach and public education on disordered gambling, and this year will see the complete integration of this expanded approach. It was announced last month that Phil Satre, the former chairman of Harrah’s Entertainment, Inc., has been elected the new chairman of the NCRG, and he will lead the organization into its next decade with a broader focus on collaboration and on enhancing the positive impact of vital research within casino communities nationwide through a decidedly public health approach to disordered gambling.
One way the NCRG will do this is by providing our industry with practical, science-based tools to use within our companies and throughout our communities to implement effective responsible gaming programs. Other goals include increasing the public’s awareness of responsible gaming and serving as a resource and repository of responsible gaming educational materials for the media and the general public.
Additionally, the NCRG will now formally partner with AGA member companies and their properties, both at the national and local levels, to create, facilitate and coordinate practical, science-based responsible gaming efforts. NCRG will provide the seed money, expertise and coordinating capabilities needed to make our initiatives even more effective than they have been in the past. By working more closely with us, the impact of new NCRG outreach programs will be greater than they could be by working alone, as the programs will have both elements needed for success – independent science as the foundation and industry support for implementation.
Of course, the organization will remain committed to providing financial support to the Institute, funding scientific research in the field of pathological gaming and disseminating and encouraging discussion of that research, and sponsoring educational events like the annual NCRG conference.
One of the first programs the NCRG will introduce as part of its expanded mission is EMERGE, a new tool for training employees about responsible gaming. EMERGE, which stands for Executive Management and Employee Responsible Gaming Education, will be launched by the Institute later this year. Developed by Harvard Medical School faculty, the program is the only one of its kind that provides a multi-layered educational experience grounded in the latest scientific research on addictions. The program also exceeds all current state regulations for the level of responsible gaming training required of casino employees.
As the NCRG enters its next decade, I look forward to bringing it and the AGA closer together to develop more effective responsible gaming programs and to increase our work with the treatment providers who do so much to help those who cannot control their gambling. I am proud of all the NCRG has accomplished in just 10 years, and we have much to discover in the years ahead. Throughout our endeavors, we will be led by the spirit of the Reno Model, always remembering that collaboration is the key.