Sept. 13-19 marks this year’s Responsible Gaming Education week. Those outside the hospitality industry might not know exactly what responsible gambling is — or how it differs from problem gambling. Jennifer Shatley, who works at UNLV International Gaming Institute as she pursues her doctorate in public policy, is a longtime industry expert and President of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling. Here she sheds some light on an often misunderstood topic.
What is the difference between responsible gambling and problem gambling?
Responsible gambling is about using gambling for fun and entertainment’s sake. Gambling can become problematic when patrons use it as a source of income or when they gamble with more money than they can afford to lose.
Responsible gambling programs are really about prevention. They are intended for gambling operators’ entire customer base because the goal is to stop problem gambling behaviors from developing in the first place.
Ironically, though, responsible gambling programs are often thought to be problem gambling programs. Because of this, casino patrons might ignore responsible gambling programs because they don’t identify themselves as problem gamblers.
That’s a terminology and perception issue that needs to be addressed. We need to determine how to position these programs to make them relevant within the minds of all customers—because that’s who they are for.
What does it mean to gamble responsibly?
Gambling responsibly means taking breaks, not using gambling as a source of income, only gambling with money that you can afford to lose, and setting limits for yourself (both with time and money). Limit-setting is actually easier to do online because a lot of online gambling sites have built-in tools that allow gamblers the ability to set limits directly on the site.
For example, an online casino patron can say, “OK, I only want to gamble for two hours today.” Then, all they have to do is put that time into the site and, after two hours, the site will tell the patron that they’ve reached their daily limit. Oftentimes, online sites also include 24-hour cooling off periods, where players can block themselves from using the platform entirely.
How has responsible gambling changed during the pandemic, if at all?
When we talk about responsible gambling, we always say that gambling is and should be a social activity. You should do it for entertainment and fun. You should do it with friends and family. But what does that look like in the COVID era—now that we have all of these social distancing protocols in place? How does that change how we talk about responsible gambling? Because unless you’re living within the same household of people, you can’t be within six feet of them. So something we need to think about is, “How do we keep gambling a social activity when we have to enforce social distancing and put barriers between people?”
Gambling operators also need to be aware that most of the customers who are returning to casinos have potentially experienced — because of COVID-19 — increased anxiety, loss of income, loss of a loved one, depression, and unemployment. These are all factors that generally contribute to problem gambling, and now most of the customer base is going to have some if not all of these experiences.
Basically, awareness is still key and the first step to gambling responsibly.
Are there individuals who might be more at risk of problem gambling behaviors?
It’s a very complicated disorder. There are neurological, biological, psychological, genetic, and other factors, but there are some factors that might make a person more at risk.
For instance, children who are raised by a problem gambler are more likely to become problem gamblers themselves. It also typically occurs alongside other mental health struggles, like post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, and depression—among others.
What should someone do if they or someone they know struggles with problem gambling?
Call the helpline number: 800-522-4700. Help is available 24/7, and it’s 100 percent confidential. When you call, you’re going to get specific resources for assistance in your area. They will also give you referrals for financial resources in addition to problem gambling treatment and support resources in your area. And best of all, the helpline is not just for problem gamblers — it’s for their families and loved ones, too. They might receive referrals to GamAnon, which is like Gamblers’ Anonymous but for family members.
Another idea is to contact the casino or other gambling venue to see if they have self-exclusion programs. These programs allow gamblers to request that their play privileges be restricted. The whole idea behind self-exclusion programs is that the individual recognizes that their behavior is a problem and they play an active role in changing that behavior. Family members can play a role in self-exclusion, too, by encouraging the gambler to seek treatment and offering support.