Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today. My name is Judy Patterson, and I am senior vice president and executive director of the American Gaming Association, the national trade association representing the commercial casino-entertainment industry.
All of us gathered here today share an interest in responsible gaming - whether we’re clinicians, counselors or industry employees. Yet we all have different roles to play. I appreciate the opportunity to tell you about what our segment of the industry, and the AGA and its member companies in particular, have done on this issue on a national level.
Before I begin, I want to first tell you a little bit about the American Gaming Association. Our mission at the AGA is to help people better understand the gaming-entertainment industry. We bring the facts about the industry to the public, elected officials and the media. We also address national issues and help develop industrywide programs on critical issues such as problem and underage gambling.
Let me start by saying that the AGA’s achievements in this area are by no means the only achievements by the casino-entertainment industry. Before the AGA was ever founded, many of our companies had instituted educational programs and funding for problem gambling that served as models for us. Harrah’s Entertainment; Boyd Gaming Corporation; and Grand Casinos, Inc., now part of Park Place Entertainment, which operates the Caesars riverboat casino across the river in Indiana, were all pioneers in responsible gaming.
At the state level, our companies have supported education and research programs. In Nevada, for example, casinos are contributing more than $200,000 to the state council on problem gambling. Many other states, including Missouri, Louisiana and Mississippi, provide significant financial assistance to support gambling help lines and other statewide programs, over and above the support provided through gaming tax revenue.
While there had been a lot of individual achievements like these at the company and state level, the initiatives had not been of a national scope. That’s why when the AGA first opened its doors five years ago, we decided problem and underage gambling were things we needed to address. This was an industry problem, and we weren’t going to pretend it didn’t exist. While we knew that the vast majority of Americans gambled responsibly, we also recognized that there were those who did not, and they deserved our attention. From day one, we set this as one of our highest priorities and decided to take a leadership role in finding ways for the industry to help those who cannot help themselves.
We started by looking to the scientific experts, and asking for their advice. How could the industry as a whole have an impact on this issue? How could we work to minimize problem gambling? We’re not medical experts, but if our customers or our employees have a gambling disorder, we want to do something to address it. Their advice for us was this: The areas where you can make a real difference are in education and funding for new research.
With that mandate, the AGA set out to broaden public awareness of problem gambling, particularly among our employees and customers, as well as to fund new research. Today, I’d like to give you an overview of the progress we’ve made. I’ve brought individual copies of a chart that outlines the progress we’ve made on a variety of fronts.
The AGA’s education efforts all fall under the general umbrella of our Responsible Gaming National Education Campaign. To help spearhead those efforts, the AGA in 1995 created a Responsible Gaming Task Force, a multidisciplinary group charged with identifying, developing and implementing responsible gaming programs and policies throughout the gaming industry.
With guidance from the task force, the AGA developed a variety of materials to inform gaming industry employees and customers about disordered gambling. These materials included a comprehensive Responsible Gaming Resource Guide that compiled examples of model responsible gaming programs and included step-by-step instructions.
It also included contact information for organizations and groups that are involved with problem gambling throughout the country. The widely used resource guide is now in its second edition.
From there, the AGA went on to publish two educational pamphlets that were distributed to all 250,000 casino-industry employees. I’ve brought along copies of both of these pamphlets. Two years ago, we produced a multimedia package called the PROGRESS Kit, which included all the elements necessary for companies to implement employee and customer education programs on compulsive and underage gambling. It included curricula developed by the North American Training Institute and certified by the American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders. To date, we have distributed approximately 150 copies of the PROGRESS Kit to our member company properties and sold an additional 20 at cost to other companies and organizations.
The AGA, in conjunction with the task force, organized seminars across the country to provide the impetus for additional action. We also conducted responsible gaming certification courses and workshops.
Because this is such a difficult issue, the AGA has tried some creative approaches to increase awareness of problem gambling. The AGA designated the first week of August every year as Responsible Gaming Education Week. During this weeklong event, companies devote activities to increasing awareness among employees and the general public about disordered gambling and the importance of responsible gaming.
To maximize the event’s impact, we’ve encouraged the involvement of everyone involved in the gaming industry - from treatment providers to regulators to other segments of the gaming industry. Last year, our most ambitious program so far, included a live broadcast, “Responsible Gaming: Keeping It Fun,” a panel discussion from Las Vegas featuring top experts in the field. More than 500 people at eight sites across the country watched the event via satellite downlink, and hundreds more watched a live Webcast of the event. In addition to casino employees, the audiences included members of state councils, regulators and lottery officials and employees. The program also was distributed on videotape to all our member companies, regulators and state councils. I’d like to give you just a sense of the content of that program, which received great support from treatment providers, state councils, regulators and others. [video clip.] This year, we will observe our fourth annual Responsible Gaming Education Week Aug. 8-12. We expect to do another live broadcast and would welcome your participation.
At the same time that we launched the Responsible Gaming National Education Campaign, we began to address what was one of the most critical problems relating to pathological gambling: the lack of quality research. The scientists had told us that we needed to have a better understanding of its causes. We needed to improve diagnostic methods and identify empirically valid prevention and treatment programs.
To accomplish those goals, the commercial casino industry - working with the AGA - founded the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG) in 1996 to fund research on pathological gambling. In doing so, we created the first independent, nonprofit organization in the country dedicated exclusively to peer-reviewed research with an organizational structure and decision-making procedures modeled after the National Institutes of Health. The NCRG has received accolades from many corners for the quality of its research, including the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.
I am extremely proud of the progress this organization has made in such a short period of time. To date, the NCRG has awarded more than $3.2 million in support of 20 scientific investigations of gambling disorders - an unprecedented level of funding for this area of research. The grants have been made to respected universities and medical research centers such as Harvard Medical School, Washington University School of Medicine and Massachusetts General Hospital.
The NCRG’s first research grant, made to Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addictions, was for a meta-analysis of 120 prevalence studies, which produced the first reliable estimates of this problem. For years, opponents of our industry had inflated the number of people who truly experience this disorder. With this study, however, we were able to say that an estimated 1.29 percent of the U.S. adult population are pathological gamblers. Those numbers have stood up to scrutiny; research conducted for the National Gambling Impact Study Commission estimated the number to be 0.1 percent and 0.9 percent. The Harvard study also indicated that the majority of those people with gambling disorders also experience other psychiatric disorders, such as alcoholism, drug abuse and depression.
The research conducted by NCRG investigators also has served another purpose of the organization: increasing public awareness of pathological gambling. The NCRG has sponsored two conferences: the first in 1999 at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and last year in Las Vegas, which focused on co-morbidity issues - or, to put it in layman’s terms, the co-existence of other disorders, such as depression or alcoholism, that make it difficult to determine whether pathological gambling is a unique disorder or the consequence of other disorders. Plans already are under way for the third annual conference, at which we expect to apply some of the results of NCRG-sponsored research to practical workplace issues in the casino.
More than 25 donors - casino operators, slot manufacturers, the Culinary Union, and industry vendors and suppliers - have committed more than $7 million to the NCRG. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission, the federal panel created by Congress to conduct a two-year examination of our industry, said this in their final report: “Perhaps surprising to some, the largest source of funding for research on problem and pathological gambling is the commercial casino industry.”
Aside from our accolades from the commission, the recognition from the research community has been the most meaningful. The most significant measure of that recognition came last fall, when the grant-making responsibilities of the National Center moved permanently to Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addictions. The new organization that will carry on those duties, the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders, will build on NCRG’s work by advancing society’s understanding of all types of addictive disorders through scientific research.
The NCRG will continue its work to expand public education efforts in the field of pathological and youth gambling. The organization will be cosponsoring a conference in Montreal, the International Youth Think Tank, to focus attention on the problem of youth gambling. In addition, working with experts involved with the Institute and NCRG, the AGA will be promoting the use of educational curricula in our nation’s schools to educate kids about gambling.
But our job hasn’t ended there. As the association representing commercial casino operators, we also play a leadership role in shaping industry policy.
The AGA developed and adopted comprehensive voluntary guidelines to promote responsible gaming and ensure that customers and employees have the necessary information to seek help, if needed. We also developed voluntary guidelines pertaining to advertising and marketing of gaming in casinos operated by members of the AGA. The purpose of the guidelines is two-fold: 1) to ensure responsible and appropriate advertising and marketing of casinos to adults that reflects generally accepted contemporary standards; and 2) to avoid casino advertising and marketing materials that specifically appeal to children and minors.
We also have developed third-party alliances to help address compulsive and underage gambling. One of the most innovative is in Missouri, where the industry’s state association forged an alliance with other local groups that share a concern about problem gambling. The Missouri Alliance to Curb Compulsive Gambling, whose members include the Missouri Riverboat Gaming Association, Missouri Gaming Commission, Missouri Lottery and state Department of Mental Health, has implemented a wide range of activities to increase public awareness of this disorder, including educational programs and radio and television public service announcements. This alliance has been so successful it is being replicated in other states, including Illinois and Iowa.
We also have asked our vendors and suppliers to work with us to address problem gambling. Just last month, representatives from the AGA and state associations from across the country met with our financial services partners to learn more about how their technology can help us provide voluntary self-exclusion from cash access machines on the casino premises.
As I indicated at the beginning of my remarks, we can’t underestimate the importance of working together. We share a common goal - to minimize problem and underage gambling - and we all bring different strengths to the table.
Not surprisingly, there is no magic silver bullet, no one solution. Nor is there one single culprit or sole cause of the problem. It takes many committed organizations and individuals working together to make lasting solutions to society’s deepest problems.
As I hope I have demonstrated to you today, our industry is working diligently to do its part to address the issue of problem gambling. We are strongly committed to finding answers and solutions. We, as an industry, know that we must take care of our own problems. But we are just a piece of the puzzle. To complete the puzzle, we must put all of the pieces together. We still have a long way to go to meet the challenges that lay before us.
I’d like to close today by discussing the issue of reality with you.
The reality is that gaming is entertainment that many people enjoy. The origin of gaming dates back to ancient times. In Egyptian tombs dating back before 2000 B.C., and Chinese excavations from as early as 600 B.C., dice with markings almost identical to our modern-day dice have been discovered.
In our own country, lotteries provided funds to construct Harvard College … the University of Virginia … and our Capital City, Washington, D.C. After the Civil War, lotteries helped rebuild the South.
Gaming is not new to our country, and its popularity is high. Americans consistently show overwhelming support for casino entertainment. More than 80 percent believe that it is acceptable for themselves or others. That is the reality.
Unfortunately, some people have a problem gambling responsibly. Kids like to gamble and engage in other risky behavior. This is also a reality we must deal with. It seems only logical that we spend our time trying to find solutions to the problem. Many of us in this room - by virtue of the fact that we came together today to discuss this issue - can play a role. We must be certain that we are focusing our efforts and resources effectively to get help to those who need it. We must not spin our wheels - or point fingers - on a matter so important.
Thank you for asking me to be with you today.