Problem gambling is everyone’s problem, and that includes the casino industry

Problem gambling is everyone’s problem, and that includes the casino industry

  • John L. Smith
February 28, 2017 2:41 PM

For many years, Las Vegas casino bosses have appeared to have a terrible time telling the difference between a good customer and a problem gambler. Most haven’t bothered to try.

Gaming guys who can spot a card cheat at 100 paces can’t or won’t admit that compulsive gambling are much of an issue. In a state that marketed casino gambling to the entire planet, the dollars devoted to the study and treatment of compulsive behavior has been essentially zero.

Gushing hometown journalists liked to tell colorful tales about “generous” casino men who gave a busted-out gambler a few bucks and bus ticket back to Scranton. The gambler’s compulsion, they liked to joke, lasted only as long as his bankroll. You don’t hear a lot of laughter about gambling addiction around the casino industry anymore. That in itself is refreshing.

The Nevada Legislature has even set aside funds — insufficient, to be sure — to help treat problem gamblers. Long ago this was a delicate subject. Over time, as legalization generated casino resorts across the country, the issue of gambling addiction and treatment has become an imperative issue to be addressed.

There’s even a law on the books that allows defendants (those who qualify) to be diverted from a strictly criminal docket into a compulsive gambling treatment program. At least in theory, the thinking behind the law is sound — even a bit progressive.

Of course, there’s rarely been much money to fund the diversion program. And for some reason the local courts and the DA don’t have much of a track record of success of using the statute for its intended purpose.

Today, in some places, paying more than lip service to compulsive gambling is a condition of receiving a casino license. That’s a good thing.

With more than 2 million Americans suffering from compulsive gambling disorder and another 3 million considered problem gamblers, there are a lot of lives at stake. (And let’s not forget that a large portion of the population either doesn’t gamble at all or gambles only rarely, so the 5 million Americans who gamble and have problems isn’t an insignificant percentage.)

The recent announcement that MGM Resorts International will be implementing the GameSense responsible gambling program at all its properties is definitely good news. MGM also announced it was donating $1 million over five years to UNLV’s International Gaming Institute to fund a study of compulsive gambling.

GameSense is the creation of the British Columbia Lottery Corp. According to the GameSense web site (bcresponsiblegambling.ca), GameSense information kiosks, either staffed or self-serve, “provide information and education to players in an open, approachable environment, to foster healthy gambling choices.”

Signing on with the Game Sense program was a condition of MGM’s licensing for its Springfield, Massachusetts, casino. That makes MGM’s decision to spread the program company-wide something akin to an arm-twisted enlightenment, but it’s better than the industry’s traditional response to the compulsive gambling issue – silence.

It’s easy to be cynical about the industry’s inconsistent approach to compulsive and pathological gambling. But the last thing Gaming Inc. wants is a Big Tobacco-style warning label slapped on its product — not to mention being associated with the carnage wrought by gamblers afflicted with a medically diagnosable disorder.

I’m not betting this leads to enlightened players knowing when to say when, but if it becomes more than a bumper sticker slogan in a society thirsty for action it will be worth the investment.

John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas journalist and author. Contact him at jlnevadasmith@gmail.com. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.