A recent headline in the Nevada Current read, “Nevada’s lack of casino self-exclusion law par for state, say experts.”
That screamed an anti-gambling bias to me. At least, that is what I thought initially. Then I read the entire article.
The story reveals the details of one person’s experience, a compulsive gambler from California named Ray. According to Ray’s account, Wynn Resorts took advantage of his compulsion. After he told his host he was swearing off gambling, the host called and offered Ray incentives too tempting to resist. Ray returned to Las Vegas and lost $75,000.
Anecdotes are not evidence of a problem beyond that of the individual case. Granted, that person suffered, but it does prove that all gamblers are preyed on by Nevada casinos. The Current says that according to experts, the practice of enticing unwilling gamblers to gamble is both legal and a regular practice in Nevada. Keith Whyte, the director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said, “Nevada takes a traditional approach — ‘Leave your money here and take your problems back home with you.’” Whyte noted that other states do better.
At this point, the Current is mixing apples and oranges. The incentives that lured Ray back to Las Vegas did not ignore his gambling problem. Rather, it was undocumented. The host knew Ray wanted to quit gambling, but not that he had an uncontrollable gambling problem. To the casino and the host, Ray was a very good customer. In the 21st century, virtually all casinos market to their best players with offers to entice them to visit the casino. That is not exclusive to casinos; most businesses, including supermarkets, use loyalty programs that function much the same as the casino version.
My ex-wife had a “personal host” with Franklin Mint who called at least once a month with an exciting new offer. It worked. In businesses from banks to airlines, retail to media, as a consumer’s spending increases, so does targeted marketing. That is the apples.
The oranges are a horse of a different color. Those people have compulsive behaviors and should be in a different and protected category. Certainly, in the gaming industry, that category requires special treatment. The Nevada Current’s article makes an argument for a self-exclusion regulation in Nevada. The Current says that 34 states require a self-exclusion program. The policy differs from state to state, but all enable a person to declare he or she wishes to be prohibited from gambling. That declaration should protect the person from casino marketing.
Colorado has just announced a new program, tightening the rules and putting the program under state control. Under the new rules, once people sign onto the state’s list, they are blocked from gambling in casinos or placing bets online. A person on the list will not be allowed to redeem winnings or collect any casino incentives. The old policy administered by the Problem Gambling Coalition of Colorado had fewer teeth in process. Under the new rules, a person chooses a period of one, three, or five years. If he or she is found gambling, not only are any winnings potentially confiscated, but the self-excluded gambler can be charged with a crime. Once on the list, only the director of the Division of Gaming can give permission to have the restrictions lifted. It might be a bit too much to charge the beleaguered gambler with a crime, but there needs to be some form of punishment.
In some jurisdictions, the gambler chooses to be excluded and the casino, not the gambler, is charged with enforcement. In those cases, if a casino markets to a person on the list or allows such a person to enter the casino and gamble, the casino can be fined. The fines usually escalate with the number of incidents. The state is responsible for maintaining the list and notifying all gambling outlets within the jurisdiction of the persons excluded.
The Nevada Current may not have been right in its characterization of Nevada and its casinos, regulations, and attitudes, but the publication is correct about the self-exclusionary list. Nevada is remiss. Problem gambling is a major social issue and one that needs to be confronted directly and responsibly. The issue is fraught with problems. Identifying people with gambling problems is not simple, nor is it easy to convince people to stop gambling if they have a problem.
Ray admits he has a problem, but would he have excluded himself from Wynn or casinos in general? We will never know; he did not have the opportunity.
Regardless of the challenges, Nevada should institute a regulatory policy for self-exclusion. A gambler should have the right and opportunity to opt out of gambling and casino marketing.