Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation’s Responsible Gaming Conference
Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr.
President and CEO, American Gaming Association
Good morning. I’m Frank Fahrenkopf, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association (AGA). I’d like to extend my sincere appreciation to the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation for inviting me to join you here today.
Before I begin discussing the U.S. commercial casino industry’s approach to responsible gaming, I would like to take a moment to applaud Canada’s extensive efforts in this crucially important arena.
Like the U.S., Canada is a leader in the global responsible gaming movement. As many of you may already know, Canada spends in excess of $100 million annually on responsible gaming. As a result, it has implemented some very innovative responsible gaming programs.
Any discussion about responsible gaming in Canada would be incomplete without a special nod to Nova Scotia. Its responsible gaming efforts are widely praised and closely monitored by the world’s most progressive gaming jurisdictions. Currently, they are tracking the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation’s new Informed Player Choice System, which will be implemented throughout the province next year.
Not surprisingly, the U.S. commercial casino industry approaches responsible gaming somewhat differently than Canada. While Canada’s gaming markets are largely government-operated, U.S. casinos are business entities, the vast majority of which are owned and operated by public companies. Though it is subject to stringent government regulation, and most commercial casino states have significant regulations governing the industry’s response to disordered gambling, the U.S. commercial casino industry is not governed by the same policies that dictate Canadian gaming operations.
But, though we approach responsible gaming somewhat differently than you do, our industry shares your deep commitment to ensuring that people gamble responsibly. It is one of our very top priorities.
As this presentation title suggests, our industry’s responsible gaming efforts are grounded in science and driven by collaboration. To help you better understand our approach to this critical issue, it is perhaps best if I begin by providing some historical context.
Although I joined the AGA more than 14 years ago, I have been working on behalf of the U.S. commercial casino industry for far longer. Before I moved to Washington in the 1980s to pursue politics, I served as a trial and gaming lawyer for 17 years in Nevada, my home state.
It was an exciting time to be a part of the gaming industry. Although casino gaming was first legalized in Nevada in 1931, the industry was still in its infancy. For decades, it was routinely linked to organized crime, and few considered casinos legitimate businesses. But that all changed in the late 1960s. From 1966 to 1970, famed businessman Howard Hughes purchased numerous gaming establishments in Nevada, and many eager investors quickly followed suit.
Also, during that time, Nevada passed two crucial pieces of legislation, the Corporate Gaming Acts. These laws removed barriers against the direct involvement of corporations in the gaming industry. They expanded existing casino operators’ access to financial capital through legitimate debt and equity markets. They also allowed existing public corporations to acquire casinos, and they increased the amount of public information on the profitability and ownership of casino operations.
Legendary Nevada businessmen – the fathers of the modern U.S. commercial casino industry – began to make names for themselves. Bill Harrah, who famously transformed a $100-a-week bingo game in Reno into a thriving business, had opened the first of many properties in his gaming empire. And Sam Boyd, who arrived in Las Vegas in 1941 with only $80 in his pocket, was building what would become the multibillion-dollar Boyd Gaming Corporation.
For many years, it was an industry of strong-willed individualists. It was led by hard-working risk-takers who competed fiercely with one another for a share of the market. So, it was with some trepidation that I assumed my post at the AGA in 1995. At that time, industry collaboration seemed like a lofty goal.
As you may already know, the AGA is the national trade association for the U.S. commercial casino industry. It is dedicated to building a better understanding of casino entertainment among the general public, elected officials and the media through education and advocacy.
The AGA’s membership consists primarily of publicly held casino companies listed on the New York and NASDAQ stock exchanges. It represents many operators that you’re probably familiar with, such as Harrah’s, MGM MIRAGE. Wynn Resorts and Isle of Capri. It also represents major slot manufacturers, such as IGT, Bally’s, Aristocrat and WMS, as well as other vendors and suppliers to our industry.
The modern U.S. commercial casino industry has expanded considerably since I left Nevada. Today, there are five types of legal gaming in the U.S. – commercial casinos like the companies I represent, Native American casinos, government-run lotteries, pari-mutuel facilities and charitable games. Only Utah and Hawaii have no form of legal gambling in their states.
Our industry represents a significant part of the national economy. There currently are 445 commercial casinos operating in 12 states across the U.S. Together, they earned more than $32 billion in revenue last year. Casinos also stimulate local economies, providing good jobs and a stable source of tax revenue. In 2009, they returned $5.7 billion in tax receipts to state and local governments. They also directly employed more than 357,000 people who earned $14 billion. In fact, casinos directly employ more people than the U.S. auto industry.
Leaders across the country praise our industry for injecting new vigor into their communities. For example, Biloxi, Mississippi, Mayor A.J. Holloway said, and I quote: “We’ve been able to improve our quality of life, which was one of the promises made when gaming was legalized… [it has] contributed more than $871 million in gaming taxes to the state alone, which is money that the legislature can use to improve the lives of residents across the state, whether their community has gaming or not.”
And yet, despite the industry’s many contributions, misinformation about gaming is relentlessly reported in the U.S. media. Gaming opponents frequently link casinos to a variety of social ills, including bankruptcy, crime and even suicide. However, a mountain of evidence directly contradicts these assertions.
For example, a 2007 study conducted by the American Bankruptcy Institute disproves the notion that casinos bring about an increase in bankruptcy rates. It found that the three states where casino gaming is most prevalent – Nevada, New Jersey and Mississippi – are not ranked in the top echelon in any of the categories that determine relative bankruptcy rates. In fact, Tennessee and Georgia – two states that do not have casino gaming – had the highest number of bankruptcies for 2007.
Likewise, a 2000 report developed by the non-partisan Public Sector Gaming Study Commission – an organization of state legislators who manage gaming in their states – refutes the claim that casinos lead to increased crime. The report concludes that “The majority of the information collected during the past decade indicates there is no link between gaming, particularly casino-style gaming, and crime.”
And finally, in 1998, Dr. Richard McCleary and Dr. Kenneth Chew at the University of California, Irvine, closely examined the link between suicide and gambling. They conducted a before-and-after analysis of six U.S. counties that have introduced gaming since the mid-1970s. The study concluded that “the risk for gaming area residents is no higher than the risk faced by residents of nongaming areas.” They also reported that “the risk of suicide for visitors to gaming areas is no higher than the risk faced by visitors to nongaming areas.”
Many industry opponents also have claimed that the rate of disordered gambling is on the rise. In reality, volumes of peer-reviewed research show the opposite. A 1999 Harvard Medical School meta-analysis of prevalence studies confirmed the rate of pathological gambling at approximately 1 percent of adult North Americans – including Canadians. Based on subsequent studies conducted by a number of different researchers, that prevalence rate has continued to hold steady for more than 30 years. And studies conducted throughout the world have identified similar prevalence rates. That’s right; despite the tremendous worldwide expansion of gaming, the rate of disordered gambling has remained virtually unchanged.
Also, while some might assume that expanded gambling results in an increased prevalence of gambling disorders, research paints a different picture. In a 2007 study from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Debbi LaPlante and Dr. Howard Shaffer found that an adaptation effect takes place when casinos first take root in a community. In other words, initial exposure to a casino might result in a temporary spike in problem gambling behaviors. However, over time, people adapt to the changed environment and moderate their behaviors.
To be sure, disordered gambling is a problem – one that the U.S. commercial casino industry takes very seriously. And, although I don’t wish to stereotype behaviors, some individuals who suffer from gambling disorders will become mired in bankruptcy, participate in criminal activities or even commit suicide. Therefore, the AGA has long contended that even one problem gambler in our casinos is one too many. And one of our key priorities is to educate casino patrons about responsible play and to help those who cannot gamble responsibly get the assistance they need.
One of the first things we did after creating the AGA back in 1995 was to directly address this important issue. At that time, individual companies already were taking a variety of approaches to responsible gaming.
Harrah’s, for example, was a leader in the responsible gaming field. It had been promoting responsible gaming since the early 1980s through its Operation Bet Smart and Project 21 programs. The Operation Bet Smart program trains employees about the importance of responsible play, as well as Harrah’s policies and procedures regarding responsible gaming. And its Project 21 initiative teaches casino employees, minors, parents and guardians about the consequences of gambling before one is legally able to do so. Over the years, these programs have been so successful that Harrah’s has licensed them to many other casino companies for use at their own properties.
The AGA built on Harrah’s existing responsible gaming efforts – and on similar activities at its other member companies – to develop broad, industrywide responsible gaming programs.
Industry collaboration was absolutely crucial to our success in this endeavor. As I mentioned before, when I joined the AGA, I feared that our industry’s leaders – who had somewhat adversarial relationships with one another – would find cooperation a challenging prospect. But, ultimately, my worries were unfounded.
The AGA’s member companies demonstrated nothing but an unwavering commitment to working together to ensure that their patrons gambled safely and responsibly. Through collaboration, we achieved remarkable progress. We navigated uncharted waters to achieve a better understanding of disordered gambling and to implement innovative responsible gaming programs. For example, we created the first set of voluntary standards for responsible gaming, which I will discuss in greater detail a little later.
Very early on, we recognized that, in order to truly be effective, responsible gaming programs must be rooted in sound science. At the time, the field of gambling research was underdeveloped, and there was a dearth of peer-reviewed studies on disordered gambling. To remedy this, we created the AGA’s affiliated charity, the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG), in 1996.
The NCRG is the only organization of its kind in the U.S. In fact, it is the only national organization devoted exclusively to supporting scientific research and public education on gambling disorders. Its board of directors is a practical, hands-on team of industry executives, health care administrators and community leaders. Chairman Glenn Christenson, who also serves as chairman of the Governor’s Problem Gambling Advisory Committee in Nevada, has been involved in responsible gaming issues throughout his career.
Today, with the contributions of the casino gaming industry, equipment manufacturers, vendors, related organizations and individuals, more than $22 million has been committed to the NCRG, an unprecedented level of funding for gambling research from a private source. The government-mandated National Gambling Impact Study Commission commended the industry for its support of this previously uncharted field of study. The funds have enabled the NCRG to attract the best minds from the most prestigious universities and hospitals to conduct cutting-edge gambling research.
To date, the NCRG has awarded millions of dollars in grants to more than 30 prestigious academic institutions and research organizations around the world. In fact, it has funded several crucial projects at universities right here in Canada, including the University of Calgary, the University of British Columbia and Laval University. NCRG funded research has yielded more than 150 scholarly articles published in peer-reviewed publications.
To ensure the highest quality research, the NCRG solicits proposals from the most respected institutions in the world, and has recruited leading scientists to serve on independent review panels modeled after the rigorous standards of the National Institutes of Health in the United States. It is important to note that the gaming industry does not play a role in determining what research projects receive funding from the NCRG. And the industry does not see the results of the research until after it is published.
We set up these firewalls to protect the integrity of the organization and prevent anyone from claiming that the gaming industry is financing research merely to suit its own needs. The Institute for Research on Gambling Disorders, an independent program of the NCRG, manages the grant-making activities for the organization with the help of an independent scientific advisory board made up of leading scientists from across the country. In fact, the advisory board includes Dr. Jeff Derevensky, who directs the Youth Gambling Research and Treatment Clinic at McGill University right here in Canada.
So, after more than 13 years of groundbreaking gambling research, what does science tell us about pathological gambling?
First, we have learned a great deal about the nature of addiction. We now know that gambling can reliably shift subjective experience and affect brain chemistry in ways that are similar to substance abuse. People with severe gambling problems might experience “neuroadaptation” – that is, changes in their neural circuitry that help perpetuate excessive behavior. The symptoms of withdrawal, experienced when a gambler attempts to quit, indicate that addiction to an activity like gambling can be as powerful as an addiction to drugs.
In addition, a 2004 Harvard Medical School study led by Dr. Shaffer debunked one of the most prevalent myths about addiction – that things, such as drugs, alcohol, slot machines, or the Internet, are inherently addictive. Rather, we have found that addiction results from the relationship between a vulnerable person and the object of addiction. The person’s vulnerabilities might include psychological problems such as depression. They also might include a difficult or chaotic upbringing and life situation, or an inherited neurobiological predisposition.
Research also has found evidence of “comorbidity” – that is, that disordered gambling often is linked to a variety of psychiatric and substance use problems. The 2005 Harvard Medical School National Comorbidity Survey Replication found that pathological gamblers suffer from other behavioral disorders at very high levels. Almost three-fourths of the sample – 73 percent – abused alcohol. More than a third of them – 38 percent – used illegal drugs. Three-fifths of the respondents – 60 percent – were addicted to tobacco. Also, a large fraction of them suffered from mood, anxiety or personality disorders.
According to the same study, a number of behavioral disorders seem to cause the subsequent onset of pathological gambling. Disordered gambling was predicted by panic, generalized anxiety and intermittent explosive disorders. Interestingly, the odds of other disorders predicting pathological gambling were generally higher than the odds of problem gambling predicting other disorders.
These results suggest that a large fraction of pathological gamblers suffer from some sort of underlying addiction syndrome. A plain implication of these results, as noted by the researchers, is that treatments for pathological gambling also must consider whether other behavioral disorders are present and need to be addressed by a therapist. A second lesson from these results is that simple remedies are unlikely to make any material impression on individuals experiencing such a complex set of interrelated problems.
Research also has demonstrated that certain sub-populations may be at greater risk of becoming pathological gamblers. According to a 1999 Harvard Medical School study, casino employees experience a higher prevalence rate of pathological gambling than the general adult population. Casino employees also have higher prevalence of smoking, alcohol problems, and depression. And, not surprisingly, given what we know about comorbidity, these risk behaviors tend to cluster.
Additionally, volumes of literature suggest that gambling is a relatively popular activity for young adults and children. Though people below the age of 21 are explicitly prohibited from gambling in commercial casinos in the U.S., they are engaging in other gambling behavior at significant rates.
A 2008 study from the Research Institution on Addictions at the University of Buffalo revealed just how frequently young people in the U.S. are gambling. More than two-thirds of the sample – 68 percent – gambled in the past year. Also, 11 percent of respondents gambled twice per week. This study also found that more than 6 percent of the sample included at-risk problem gamblers, and more than 2 percent already were pathological gamblers.
Research also has taught us a great deal about how slot machines influence gambling behaviors. Though slots are the most popular game among casino patrons, they also are the most vigorously opposed by gaming critics. A number of critics have labeled slots “the crack cocaine of gambling,” and they claim that slots have brought about an increase in the number of pathological gamblers.
Quite simply, the hard evidence belies this claim. As I mentioned before, numerous prevalence studies have found that approximately 1 percent of North Americans are pathological gamblers. And prevalence studies in other continents reflect similar rates of disordered gambling. Despite wider access to slot machines and continued evolution in game design, the worldwide prevalence rate has held steady. Gaming opponents used to cite prevalence statistics as high as 50 percent. But decades of research discredited their ridiculous claims.
In addition, increased scrutiny of slot machines – and other electronic gaming machines – has sparked an interest in new technology that might help players control their gambling habits. Many jurisdictions, including Canada, have invested in responsible gaming features for electronic gaming machines. Research results regarding the efficacy of these features has been mixed.
Finally, research is starting to unravel how and why people move from pathological gambling to health. Recent studies suggest that recovery from disordered gambling definitely is possible. Thus far, Gamblers Anonymous – a self-help fellowship that provides mutual support for individuals experiencing gambling-related problems – has led to positive outcomes. Talk therapy and drug-intervention strategies, such as the use of naltrexone, have potential as well.
Perhaps surprisingly, emerging evidence of high rates of recovery coupled with low rates of treatment-seeking suggests that natural recovery might be a relatively common rehabilitation option for pathological gamblers. In fact, a 2006 study from Wendy Slutske at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that 33 to 36 percent of people with a lifetime history of pathological gambling recovered on their own.
Research into disordered gambling treatment options has significant implications. It will help health care providers, communities, insurance companies and public health planners better respond to the needs of people struggling with gambling problems.
Now not all of the studies I just mentioned were funded by the NCRG, but they point to a robust field that has changed a great deal in the last decade. In 2000, the NCRG awarded its largest grant for a dynamic, ongoing research program to Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addictions, the undisputed and exclusive leader in the field of gambling research at that time. Led by Dr. Shaffer, the Division’s high level of commitment to the study of disordered gambling far surpassed that of any other top-tier research institution.
Since that time, the field of disordered gambling research has evolved and grown into a burgeoning field in which a host of expert researchers at a wide array of top-tier institutions are expanding and deepening the study of gambling disorders. At the same time, however, government funding for gambling research has been rather scarce, and, unfortunately, the current economic recession has reduced what little funding was once available.
While significant strides have been made in the research arena, that progress has raised important new questions that merit further investigation. The thorough investigation of these questions – and the overall future development of the field – calls for the adoption of innovative approaches to research funding.
The NCRG once again attempted to answer that call earlier this year by restructuring its research funding strategy, allowing the organization to more efficiently distribute its available resources to provide more institutions with access to the large-scale, long-term funding needed to conduct seminal research on gambling disorders. This type of research will more quickly advance the body of knowledge about gambling disorders.
To make these types of grants for the study of gambling disorders more widely available, the NCRG is creating NCRG Centers of Excellence in Gambling Research at top-tier research institutions around the United States. The first two NCRG Centers of Excellence, chosen by an independent, peer review panel, are located at the University of Minnesota and Yale University.
Each university has received a three-year grant to conduct dynamic, ongoing research programs. The grants will be managed by the Institute for Research on Gambling Disorders. The Institute also will continue to manage a separate competitive grants program for individual research projects, and to convene peer review panels to evaluate and select research applications. I, for one, am very excited to see where this new direction takes the field.
I began my discussion today by telling you about the NCRG and its work because the research findings I highlighted have tremendously influenced the U.S. commercial casino industry’s approach to responsible gaming. In fact, I could spend the remainder of my time today discussing the many other important breakthroughs that have occurred in the field of gambling research since the inception of the NCRG. I won’t do that to you, but I encourage those of you who wish to know more about the NCRG’s key research findings to visit the organization’s Web site at www.ncrg.org .
Now, I’d like to tell you a little more about my segment of the U.S. gaming industry and how we approach responsible gaming in the United States. Despite a small fraction of vocal industry opponents, casino gaming has become an accepted part of the mainstream U.S. culture. It is comparable to participating in a variety of leisure activities, including attending movies, athletic events and theater. According to a recent public opinion poll, 81 percent of Americans think casino gaming is an acceptable activity for themselves or others.
I would describe our industry’s approach to responsible gaming as a measured one. We focus on education rather than direct intervention. Ultimately, we believe that the decision to gamble is a personal choice. As such, it requires discipline and individual responsibility.
Statistics show that the vast majority of people – 99 percent of gamblers – can walk into a casino, set limits, and walk away with nothing more than fun stories and a satisfying experience. Our industry’s responsible gaming efforts are primarily designed to help those people who can gamble responsibly do so without incident and intrusion, and to help those who cannot gamble responsibly get the help they need.
We focus our education efforts on patrons and employees. It’s important for our employees to understand these issues because they are on the front lines, interacting with patrons on a daily basis, and because many of them are gamblers themselves. They need to understand the issues to ensure their own behavior is responsible and to communicate those messages to customers. They also need to be able to tell a patron how to get help if asked.
Shortly after the creation of the NCRG, the AGA in 1997 created the Responsible Gaming National Education Campaign. It is an industrywide umbrella program focused on educating casino employees and the public about responsible gaming. The campaign, which continues to expand today, includes a variety of elements.
“Keep it Fun” is a theme that pervades our responsible gaming programs and outreach materials. Our message to casino employees and patrons is simple: Keep gambling what it should be – entertainment. We encourage them to know how to set limits, and to know when to stop.
The “Keep it Fun” theme features four basic guidelines. First, gambling by its nature entails risk, and, ultimately, the odds of winning are with the house. Second, responsible gaming is an activity done socially, with family, friends or colleagues. Third, responsible gaming is done for limited amounts of time, both in frequency and duration. And fourth, responsible gaming always has predetermined, acceptable limits for losses.
To disseminate the “Keep it Fun” message, the AGA developed a brochure that is available in casinos across the U.S. It encourages gamblers to establish their own limits by developing a set of personal guidelines to determine whether, when and how much to gamble. In addition, it directs people experiencing gambling problems to a national problem gambling hotline for confidential assistance.
In conjunction with the brochure, the AGA also developed “Keep it Fun” wristbands for casino patrons and employees. The bright-orange wristbands are sold during Responsible Gaming Education Week each year, and proceeds benefit the NCRG.
Responsible Gaming Education Week (RGEW) is another key element of the AGA’s national responsible gaming campaign. The event is an industrywide education outreach effort targeted to casino employees and patrons, as well as the public. It is held annually during the first week in August. Throughout the week, industry representatives across the country promote a national theme through organized public education and awareness activities at their properties and in their communities.
The theme of this year’s campaign, “Know the Code,” commemorated the fifth anniversary of the first implementation of the AGA Code of Conduct for Responsible Gaming. Throughout the week, gaming establishments across the country hosted a variety of engaging activities designed to help their employees gain a better understanding of how responsible gaming impacts every aspect of the casino business. It also served as a refresher for employees about the various programs in place at their casino to adhere to the provisions of the Code.
Without a doubt, the Code of Conduct really is the defining element of the AGA’s national responsible gaming program.
Since its inception, the AGA board of directors has established numerous voluntary responsible gaming guidelines. However, in 2003, the board combined and expanded those guidelines to create the Code of Conduct. Implemented by member companies in 2004, the Code serves as a guideline for the responsible gaming policies and procedures at casino properties across the country. It is the industry’s pledge to employees, patrons and the public. By adhering to the Code, AGA members agree to integrate responsible gaming practices into every aspect of their daily operations, from employee assistance and training to alcohol service, advertising and marketing.
The first section of the Code – a pledge to employees – requires AGA members to educate new employees about their responsible gaming programs, and to routinely train existing employees to improve their understanding of responsible gaming practices. In addition, AGA members are required to post responsible gaming awareness signage bearing a toll-free help-line number at various locations where employees congregate.
The second section of the Code – a pledge to patrons – requires AGA members to make widely available brochures and other materials describing responsible gaming and where to find assistance. This section also features one of the Code’s most important requirements – a provision for the creation of a self-exclusion program at each member company casino. Self-exclusion programs allow customers to place their names on a list to be prohibited from gambling at a particular facility and receiving casino privileges, and to remove themselves from promotional mailing lists. More than any other aspect of the Code, the self-exclusion provision reflects the U.S. commercial casino industry’s philosophy regarding the individual rights and responsibility associated with gambling.
The Code also dictates that casinos must make patrons aware of the odds of winning and losing the games offered at the facility. In 2005, the AGA debuted “The House Advantage: A Guide to Understanding the Odds.” The brochure provides information about the advantage the casino has in various games and is available at AGA member properties throughout the country. Reminding casino patrons that the odds are always with the house is an essential element of the informed choice approach we take to responsible gaming in the U.S. If a player knows the odds, they can make better decisions about setting a budget and determining what games they will play and for how long.
The Code of Conduct also requires AGA member companies to make efforts to prevent underage gambling, to serve alcoholic beverages responsibly and to advertise responsibly. More specifically, casino advertising and marketing materials must include responsible gaming messages, and they cannot target minors.
The third section of the Code – a pledge to the public – requires AGA members to continue to provide funding for NCRG research projects. In addition, they must constantly review their responsible gaming programs to ensure that they are complying with the Code.
The Code is a living document; it continues to evolve, even today. Currently, with the exception of the pledge to employees, the Code focuses almost exclusively on casino operators. As a result, the AGA is considering adding new provisions to the Code that specifically apply to gaming manufacturers. Nevertheless, the Code remains the most comprehensive document of its kind, and it serves as a model for gaming jurisdictions around the globe.
Also, in 1997, the AGA formed a partnership with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to address concerns about unattended children left alone at casino properties. Together, they created “Guidelines for Children and Minors” – a list of suggested standards for casinos to follow regarding unattended children. Of course, the responsibility of protecting children anywhere lies first and foremost with a child’s parents or guardian. However, like every member of the retail and entertainment sector, the commercial industry understands it has a responsibility to protect children when they are present at casino properties.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has applauded the U.S. commercial casino industry for creating these guidelines, noting that they can serve a template for others in the entertainment sector, such as amusement parks, shopping malls and sports centers. We are proud to have led the way on this important issue.
In addition to these efforts, the AGA maintains a comprehensive collection of responsible gaming resources on its Web site. They include a variety of studies, news articles, reference materials, guidelines and best practices.
Chief among these resources is the AGA’s “Responsible Gaming Statutes and Regulations” handbook, which details how state regulatory bodies approach this important issue. As I mentioned earlier, the U.S. commercial casino industry is subject to stringent government regulation, including laws related to responsible gaming. Though these laws vary from state to state, they share a number of common elements, including a minimum age requirement of 21 to gamble, regulations pertaining to alcohol service, problem gambling treatment funding, employee training and education, self-exclusion programs, and requirements for signage and advertising. Like our industry, gaming regulators take responsible gaming very seriously. As the field evolves, so too does their approach to responsible gaming statutes and regulations. Many of the newest commercial casino states – Kansas and Pennsylvania being prime examples – now require casino operators to submit a responsible gaming plan as part of their bid to obtain a gaming license.
Earlier I told you about all the great research that has been funded by the NCRG, but I would be remiss if I didn’t briefly mention some of the recent education initiatives developed by the organization. One of the NCRG’s primary objectives is to translate complex research findings into practical, real-world applications. The NCRG, the Institute and the AGA frequently collaborate to develop programs that increase awareness about gambling disorders and promote responsible gaming.
In 2007, the NCRG debuted EMERGE, a science-based responsible gaming training program that educates casino industry employees about gambling disorders. It was developed by scientists at Harvard Medical School with funding from the NCRG. As with all of the NCRG’s initiatives, one of the objectives for the program was to set a new and higher standard for responsible gaming education. I believe that the NCRG achieved that goal. EMERGE exceeds current requirements established by state regulations for responsible gaming training for casino employees.
EMERGE is a very user-friendly program. It allows users to move at their own pace so that they can easily learn about the science behind gambling addiction and the importance of responsible gaming. Because of its Web-based design, EMERGE is available to employees 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It requires no special software or equipment. Employees can use the program and take certification tests at their own leisure.
Just last year, the NCRG unveiled another cutting-edge responsible gaming tool. Its “Talking with Children about Gambling” brochure is a research-based guide designed to help parents, and others who work with youth, deter children from gambling. It also helps them recognize possible warning signs of problem gambling and other risky behaviors.
The Institute developed the brochure after a study of the empirical research that has been published about young people and risky behaviors. The guidelines in the brochure are grounded in research findings that help us understand why young people take risks despite negative consequences, as well as what can be done to help them make better choices. Fortunately, the research on youth gambling continues to grow, and NCRG funding has contributed to an increasing knowledge base on youth and gambling.
Because youth gambling is not always a visible issue, the NCRG wanted to alert parents to the potential risks of such activities. The brochure offers helpful tips for those who may suspect their children have a problem with gambling or any other risky behavior. The brochure, along was a variety of related tools, is available for free download at www.ncrg.org .
This year, the NCRG launched yet another groundbreaking responsible gaming program.
A 2005 study led by Dr. Shaffer of Harvard Medical School found that, while nearly every college and university in the United States has a policy on alcohol use, only 22 percent had gambling policies in place at their institutions. To help address this void, the NCRG established the Task Force on College Gambling Policies last year.
Coordinated by the Division on Addictions at Cambridge Health Alliance at Harvard Medical School, the task force has created a list of recommendation for science-based college gambling policies. Consulting the recommendations will help colleges and university administrators prevent excessive gambling by students and also promote recovery from gambling addiction and related disorders.
Members of the task force are administrative and academic professionals representing universities and colleges from all U.S. geographic regions and both private and public schools. They represent student life, student health services, student counseling, athletics and academic departments focused on counseling and gambling research.
The 10 topline recommendations in the task force’s report focus on the topics of core prohibition and restriction policies, recovery-oriented policies that recognize gambling disorders as a mental health issue, and policies on special events that involve gambling.
The recommended policies and programs range from establishing a campus-wide committee to develop a comprehensive gambling policy, to making reasonable accommodations for students who may miss class as they focus on recovery, to strengthening the capacity of counseling services to identify and treat gambling disorders.
Information about these recommendations and all the NCRG programs I’ve mentioned here are available on the organization’s Web site at www.ncrg.org .
Finally, the NCRG has an ongoing commitment to educating all stakeholders about new responsible gaming developments and pathological gambling research. The NCRG and the Institute together sponsor the annual NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction, which is a highlight of our education initiatives.
The NCRG’s conference shares a similar format with the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation’s annual event. Like this conference, it provides a forum for hundreds of treatment providers, gaming regulators, elected officials, industry executives, scientists and legal professionals from around the world.
Since its inception, the NCRG’s conference has focused on a variety of cutting-edge topics. The theme of this year’s conference is “Money, Money, Money: Current Issues Affecting Research, Recovery and Responsible Gaming.”
Money is at the heart of any discussion about gambling disorders, from how gamblers make decisions related to financial risk and debt to how the current fiscal crisis is impacting gambling behavior. In fact, understanding gamblers’ relationship with money is essential to understanding how gambling can become an addiction.
Conference sessions will explore new research on decision making and informed choice, as well as how to integrate financial management into treatment for disordered gamblers. It also will investigate the impact of the recession on government and industry-sponsored efforts to reduce gambling harms, as well as the nature of compulsive shopping, a closely related disorder.
This year’s conference will take place November 15 – 16 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. I urge those of you who are interested in attending the conference to register as soon as possible via the NCRG’s Web site.
As you can see, the U.S. commercial casino industry’s approach to responsible gaming is multifaceted and dynamic. As our understanding of disordered gambling evolves, so too will our efforts to ensure that casino patrons gamble responsibly. However, as I mentioned throughout my presentation, two ingredients have been absolutely essential to the success of our efforts to date.
First, industry collaboration is crucial; without it, our responsible gaming activities would have been futile. By sharing resources and best practices – and, perhaps most importantly, by sharing a commitment to responsible gaming – our industry has achieved tremendous progress.
And second, basing our efforts on sound scientific research has been and will continue to be an imperative. Consulting reputable, peer-reviewed research has ensured that our responsible gaming approach is both measured and effective.
Without a doubt, there is still much to learn about this relatively young field. And certainly, we can learn quite a bit about responsible gaming programs from each other. Events like these are fundamental to building collaborative approaches to common goals.
We know that the vast majority of Americans and Canadians who gamble do so recreationally without adverse consequences. By encouraging them to “Keep it Fun,” we remind them to play responsibly and to keep gambling what it should be – entertainment.
Ultimately, though the U.S. and Canadian approaches to responsible gaming differ, I believe that we both have made a significant impact. And there still is quite a bit of work to be done. We must continue to be vigilant in our efforts to ensure that people gamble safely and responsibly. I look forward to our continued dialogue and to the success and discovery we have still yet to achieve.