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Getting Serious About Problem Gambling

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March 26, 2018
Bill Geoghegan - bill@lgconsulting.com

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MGM Tests GameSense with Plans to Integrate into mLife Loyalty Program

Compulsive gambling, technically known as ludomania, is the uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on a person’s life. Gambling can stimulate the brain's reward system much like drugs or alcohol can, leading to addiction. Gambling addiction can occur when a person feels that they are in financial ruin and can only solve their problems by gambling what little they have in an attempt to get a large sum of money. Unfortunately, this almost always leads to a cycle in which the gambler feels they must win back their losses, and the cycle goes on until the person is forced to seek rehabilitation to break their habit. Another type of gambling addiction results when a gambler plays the games and makes risky bets to experience the emotional high associated with taking huge risks that occasionally pay off. 
Many factors can contribute to a gambling addiction, including desperation for money, the desire to experience thrills and highs, the social status associated with being a successful gambler, and the entertaining atmosphere of the mainstream gambling scene. 
Much like “dram shop laws” by which a bar or restaurant that overserves a customer and can then be sued by a third party who is injured by the drunk driver, many jurisdictions are now requiring that gaming establishments have in place a program which identifies potential problem gamblers, permits a player to set a budget, or allows voluntary self exclusion.
Established in 1996 by the casino industry, the National Center for Responsible Gaming was the first serious organization to research gambling disorders. Located in Massachusetts, the organization is a valuable resource to media for experts on compulsive gambling matters.  Regulators in Massachusetts have ordered operators in that state – MGM, Wynn Resorts Ltd. and Penn National Gaming – to adopt the GameSense program which was developed by the British Columbia Lottery Corp.
GameSense enrollment in its simplest form is completely optional on the part of the player.  When the player inserts his or her player card, he or she is offered an option to enroll. Once enrolled, the player may set and later adjust daily, weekly or monthly spending limits. Depending on the duration of the limits, the player is notified when they have reached 50 percent, 75 percent and 100 percent of that budget. The player may stop or continue to play.
The Plainridge Park Casino in Massachusetts offers players a one-time $5 food credit upon enrollment to encourage players to set a limit, but while it is highly encouraged, it is completely optional.
In its more stringent form, self-exclusion is more far reaching. A player must voluntarily commit to a program which includes counseling. A player opts for exclusion for a predetermined length of time. The player may change the duration, but not by shortening it. Casinos are forbidden to send any direct advertisements to excluded players. Once a player is in this program, the exclusion is statewide. Casinos are required to refuse entry into gaming areas (including pari-mutuel wagering) and notify the commission if an individual has been found in a gaming area. Use of the player card known to be registered to a self-excluded individual will trigger an alarm that requires intervention by staff. The law requires that all chips, tickets, etc. that are used in gambling be confiscated, all accumulated points be erased, and the player escorted off property.  To ensure that the establishment complies with the law, the licensee must determine the amount wagered and lost by a self-excluded individual and deposit the amount of the losses into the state’s Gaming Revenue Fund. Failure to comply with these requirements can also result in the revocation, limit, condition, license suspension or fine to a gaming licensee.
The technology that is required to ensure exclusion is sophisticated, and rarely seen. License plate readers may scan cars entering a parking lot or garage, parsing plate numbers and alerting staff as to the potential of an excluded person coming onto the property.  Just entering the property is not an issue, but entry into any gaming area is prohibited. Biometric face recognition systems which can distinguish a known person even somewhat disguised are already prevalent. 
During a problem gambling Las Vegas roundtable Alan Feldman, MGM Resorts International’s executive vice president of global industry affairs, and who serves as the NCRG’s chairman, said that gaming leaders have spent much of the past 20 years focused on problem gambling matters when it was too late. 
Once MGM officials had a look at GameSense, it decided to introduce it companywide. GameSense will have a physical presence in MGM’s 10 Southern Nevada properties with the ultimate goal of providing it at casinos in Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi and eventually Massachusetts, where the company will open a new property in Springfield next year. MGM Resorts International has begun training its 77,000 employees nationwide on the basics of a new responsible gambling program.
Employees will be asked to walk the tightrope of providing resources without being intrusive and to encourage responsible play without making judgments about how a customer plays or attempting to diagnose a problem that may not be there.
“We should be in the forefront of defining and promoting responsible gaming,” Feldman said in a recent interview. “I’m not suggesting that we don’t want to help anyone who’s in crisis, because clearly we do.
“But defining what someone’s problem is can’t possibly be the realm of casino employees,” he said. “It’s just not right. This is a tough enough thing to define and to diagnose if you’re a trained therapist, counselor, psychologist or even psychiatrist. This is a very, very tough subject to face.”
Addiction experts say about 2.5 million players suffer a compulsive gambling disorder, with 3 million more considered problem gamblers and 15 million more at risk of becoming a problem gambler. That’s about 2.9 percent of the adult gambling population, although percentages are greater in Nevada where it’s estimated that between 2.2 percent and 3.6 percent of players suffer some form of addiction.
Initially, MGM will set up signage and kiosks at its properties with personnel to counsel players about addictive gambling behaviors. As the program develops, MGM officials hope to integrate it into the company’s mLife loyalty card program to enable players to set time and spending limits on play to alert them when they are approaching the levels they set.

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