NGCB Chair Harris, Penn National’s Auriemma Talk Sexual Harassment Prevention

October 9, 2018 11:15 PM
  • Dave Newton
October 9, 2018 11:15 PM

Two different approaches to preventing sexual harassment in the workplace were advanced at Monday’s Global Gaming Expo panel discussion, “Gaming Regulatory and Operator Issues in the Wake of #MeToo Revelations.”

Becky Harris, Chairwoman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board, described an approach involving a detailed checklist that she has developed listing what licensees would be required to do to prevent sexual harassment.  She has also conducted a series of workshops to get feedback from various stakeholders.

The Gaming Control Board cannot adopt the regulations outright, she said, but it can recommend them to the Gaming Control Commission. That five-member panel would then vote on whether or not to implement the regulations.

Thomas Auriemma, a gaming consultant with Penn National Gaming who sits on the compliance committees of four different companies, said that sexual harassment issues could be handled in the same way other workplace problems were handled.  He said that most gaming companies have compliance plans, codes of conduct, written policies and methods such as anonymous hotlines for employees to report violations, and that these are appropriate for sexual harassment complaints as well as other workplace issues.

Harris pointed out that the situation in Nevada is different than it is in many other states.

“We have 3,000 licensees,” she said.  “Not all have HR or Compliance departments, and some don’t have these policies in place.”

For the smaller casinos, the proposed regulations would benefit them by giving them guidance into what policies are appropriate to adopt to prevent sexual harassment in their facilities.

“It’s as much an educational adventure as it is a reporting mechanism,” she said.

Harris said there had been a lot of positive feedback about the proposed new regulations, and that some licensees had already started using them.

“I’ve been heartened by the response,” she said.  “Many have responded (favorably) even though the regulations have not been implemented.”

The small panel also discussed the additional challenges faced by employees in the gaming and hospitality industries.  Not only do industry employees have to deal with supervisors, co-workers, and vendors, they have to deal with customers who are having a good time and have often been drinking.

“We’re in the fun business, the entertainment business.  We encourage employees to smile, to engage the customers, so they feel comfortable and want to come back,” Auriemma said.  “Usually alcohol plays a big part when things go over the line.”

Auriemma said that he sees it as the supervisor’s role – the pit boss or shift manager, in the case of a casino – to intervene to protect the employee in such situations, and to escalate it to a higher level if necessary.

“Those in supervisory positions need to be trained to handle these situations,” he said.

In response to a question about the need to adapt policies going forward, as organizations learn more about preventing and dealing with sexual harassment, both Harris and Auriemma said that policies and procedures should be reviewed annually.

Harris said one of the items on her draft regulation checklist is an annual assessment of sexual harassment policies and procedures. She indicated that she is working toward having the final regulations include a provision that the Board can make updates to the checklist as needed without having to first get Commission approval.

Auriemma said that he recommends that casino companies review and update their entire compliance plan annually, and that sexual harassment policies should be part of that review.

The session was moderated by Amy Kebert Elder, a Shareholder at Baker Donelson.

Elder said in her opening statement that there had been an unprecedented number of sexual harassment claims in 2018, and there had been many new laws in the works or enacted at the state level.   A Maryland law that became effective October 1, 2018 will require employers to submit reports on sexual harassment settlements, she said.

She also pointed out that studies had shown sexual harassment was very common in gaming, with one study reporting 90% of women and 75% of men saying they had been sexually harassed at work.

Harris closed the session by saying that her efforts to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace in Nevada “were not about the #MeToo movement… they (are) about doing the right thing for our employees.”