Responsible gambling best practices will be 2023 focus of state lawmakers

December 29, 2022 6:44 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
December 29, 2022 6:44 PM

State lawmakers across the country will address problem gambling and responsible-gambling best practices in 2023 as sports wagering and igaming continue expanding.

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The National Council of Legislators from Gaming States will meet this summer to approve a resolution by its Committee on Responsible Gaming. The work has been under way for three years and was discussed at NCLGS’s winter meeting recently in Las Vegas.

The committee’s Safer Gaming Resolution Working Group has already gathered input from multiple stakeholders in a range of disciplines related to responsible gaming and problem gambling. Its goal is to identify, review, and synthesize that input into a resolution this summer that can assist legislators in considering adopting best practices, according to NCLGS past president and former Nevada state Senator Keith Pickard.

“Of course, we have to encourage the commercial interests, because that’s what generates revenue for the state, but the one thing that people can’t do for themselves, particularly in this context, is protect themselves from things they can’t control,” Pickard said. “We as legislators have an opportunity and obligation to make sure we do what we can to protect the vulnerable among us. We’re hopeful that legislators and regulators will buy in.”

Jennifer Shatley, a responsible-gaming consultant at the UNLV International Institute, said their proposal will be “an empirically based framework” that allows states to tailor it to the needs of their jurisdictions. She said states need a multitude of policies, strategies, and interventions to deal with different aspects of the problem.

“Unfortunately, sometimes we only look at problem gambling and how you fund and deal with treatment, but what we should be looking at is the full spectrum,” Shatley said. “What are we doing for prevention? What are we doing for awareness? What are we doing around stigma? What are we doing before a problem develops?”

Shatley said states should look at responsible-gaming and problem-gambling policies, which are different. Responsible gaming is about prevention, while problem gambling is about treatment and recovery, she added.

Shatley called for sharing research findings across jurisdictions if a policy or program works. Operators and customers cross state borders, so that collaboration is important. The problem is most states don’t have budgets for research and should consider funding it.

“Research helps us develop policies that will work and don’t create unintended consequences,” Shatley said. “Sometimes when we implement these things, they do the opposite of what we want them to do. The only way to do that is to continue to innovate and evaluate what we’re doing.”

As for funding, it should be focused on prevention, awareness, harm reduction, outreach, and treatment, along with research, Shaley said. Not a lot is known about these issues and research can make a difference.

Alan Feldman, distinguished fellow of responsible gaming at the UNLV International Gaming Institute, said in the 30 years he’s been in the industry, he’s yet to meet a regulator or legislator who doesn’t profess to be committed to responsible gambling.

“But so few are doing anything about it,” Feldman countered. “That’s the problem we’re hoping to address to draw attention to the issue. There needs to be something more than a commitment to responsible gaming.”

The gaming industry isn’t off the hook either. For some, that commitment is simply putting a message on a web page that restates whatever the regulations are, Feldman said. The resolution NCLGS adopts next summer has to be flexible and allow states to do what they can to encourage innovation, rather than spell out a specific program.

“Let’s let Indiana try something, then measure it and see if it works,” Feldman said. “We’re seeing that already in Massachusetts, which is one of the few states that did something about it and is beginning to get back results of what works.”

Feldman called problem gambling “counterintuitive,” because any idea that looks like it might solve the problem won’t. He said “no silver bullet” has been discovered.

Shatley said the principles put forth in the resolution will be relevant to all types of gambling, no matter the product or how it’s delivered.

“It’s not specific to what we’re going to do for online, brick-and-mortar, and lottery,” Shatley said. “This is a framework for best policies around the issues of problem gambling and responsible gambling across the board.”

Feldman, meanwhile, singled out Florida for not taking the topic seriously. The state acts as if it “had no idea that this was an issue.” It’s the fifth largest gaming state in the U.S. and should know better, he said.

“It isn’t about casinos and whether or not you have them,” Feldman said. “There are problem gamblers in Utah and Hawaii and neither state has any form of legalized gambling. Gambling is accessible and as a result, you’re facing a very complex public-health issue. It’s a mistake to think that only if we have casinos, we’ll have a problem.”

Problem gamblers deal with four or more kinds of gambling activities and lawmakers will be playing “whack-a-mole” if they address casinos only, Feldman said.

When Keith Pickard chaired the Responsible Gaming Commission, he along with his wife had a decade of experience in an addiction-recovery group for youths. He said they learned about the physiology of addiction and the difference between those that are substance and behavior based.

“It takes twice as long for the brain to recover from a behavior-based addiction than from a substance-based addiction, because once the substance is out of the system, the brain recovers,” Pickard said. “Whereas when the brain has been hijacked, it takes longer to recover. We had kids ages 12 to 17 and some had problems with online gaming on offshore sites and that brought this home.”

Pickard said NCLGS is positioned to deal with the issue, since one of its major purposes is to educate lawmakers who aren’t experts, Pickard said. It’s important to address the matter in 2023.

“I’ve learned a lot at NCLGS, but what was always in the back of my mind was responsible gaming,” Pickard said. “How do we as a body of legislators do more than just meet and talk and create relationships?”