Does Increased Access Lead To Problem Gambling? Evidence Says That’s A Myth

March 29, 2017
Does Increased Access Lead To Problem Gambling? Evidence Says That’s A Myth

There is a growing body of evidence — both scientific and anecdotal — contradicting one of the core tenets of the anti-gambling movement — the notion that increased accessibility leads to increases in problem gambling rates.

Importantly, this evidence is coming from places anyone would be hard-pressed to paint as pro-gambling.

The latest news on this front comes from reporting in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Norm B., a spokesman for the Western Pennsylvania-West Virginia region of Gamblers Anonymous, told the newspaper that after the opening of local casinos, “I expected a deluge of new people, and that has not happened.”

In fact, GA chapters in the region have seen a decrease in attendance from Pennsylvanians. The number of calls to the state compulsive gambling council’s hotline have also declined.

Previous study

The situation on the ground in Pennsylvania backs up research from a 2014 University of Buffalo study conducted by Dr. John Welte that concluded “US residents are gambling less often,” even though there are more places to gamble and more access to gambling.

Like the evidence provided by Gamblers Anonymous, Welte is an unbiased observer.

Welte received a $3 million grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to examine the rate of problem gambling during the past decade. That’s to say, the research came during the rise of online gambling and continued proliferation of land-based gambling.

He even admitted he anticipated the research would prove access did increase problem gambling. He speculated on why the results showed the opposite.

These are not the customers you’re looking for

Problem gambling is a real and very serious issue that is believed to afflict between one and two percent of the US population.

Casinos and the gaming industry are an easy target for anti-gambling types. The belief is the drinks, sounds and lights (and the supposedly pumped-in oxygen) are all part of the industry’s attempts to appeal to problem gamblers. That group, many believe, are casinos’ biggest revenue sources.

There may have been some truth to this decades ago, but the gaming industry is changing. It is focusing less on actual gambling and more on entertainment — and more importantly, turning gambling into entertainment and creating repeat customers.

“That’s not the type of customer we want” is a common refrain from gaming executives when they’re accused of enabling problem gamblers and preying on this vulnerable population.

Based on some of the policies and the business decisions they’re making, casinos are making serious inroads when it comes to counteracting problem gambler. They are putting effective responsible gaming procedures in place.

Pitching in to ease the burden of problem gambling

From Problem Gambling Awareness Month to Responsible Gaming Education Week, casinos are not just putting these RG policies in place. They’re making it known that these resources are available to anyone struggling with gambling addiction.

Casinos help problem gamblers by removing the stigma of self-exclusion and streamlining the process. The goal is to eliminate the notion that self-exclusion is a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s now explained as a good decision.

MGM is one casino company taking the lead on the problem gambling front. The company is in the process of rolling out GameSense (a program required in Massachusetts) across all of its US properties. The GameSense program consists of employees trained in responsible gaming, who are interacting with people on the casino floor.

Another program in place in Massachusetts is PlayMyWay. That is a voluntary pre-commitment tool that asks players if they’d like to set spending limits when they insert their players cards into slot machines.

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Online gambling is even more effective at combating problem gambling

As effective as these land-based programs are, online gambling sites are proving to be even more effective.

They allow operators to better identify and assist problem and underage gamblers. It also makes it easier for them to get the help they need. Offshore unregulated sites provide zero consumer protections or responsible gaming features, which is why legalization and regulation is critical.

For starters, states are including responsible gaming funding in their legislation — land-based and online.

In New Jersey, each online operator is required to pay $250,000 to help fund problem gambling research. That includes a yearly study by Rutgers University.

The information Rutgers is providing has been invaluable and is proving that the features in place work.

According to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, about 1,500 people add their names to the self-exclusion list each year. That list now numbers about 7,800 residents. Even more would add their names if online gambling were legalized in the state.

Self-exclusion is more popular online, likely because the process is easier. This is evidenced by the 10,000 online players who self-excluded in New Jersey in 2015 alone. Online players are also able to set deposit, wager and time limits on their play. Thousands of online gamblers in New Jersey have done just that. The sites are able to track each and every bet.

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