At a Racing and Gaming Conference panel last week in Saratoga Springs, panelists faced the question: “Are responsible gaming programs and funding keeping pace with industry growth?”
That answer, unsurprisingly and quickly, was a resounding, “No.”
Authority figures from the gambling, media and addiction services sectors spoke at length about the need for further action from casinos and gambling operators regarding responsible gambling in NY and across the country. The speakers shared a sense of urgency in addressing the matter, especially given the recent legalization of New York sports betting.
“This may not be the most important panel, but it is the most important subject,” said Bill Pascrell III, partner with the Princeton Public Affairs Group.
Getting out in front of responsible gaming
Pascrell explained that establishments catering to those who bet money they cannot afford to lose aren’t doing their part.
“The industry used to treat the gambling-addicted customer as the VIP customer,” he said. “It can’t afford to do that anymore.”
Fellow panelists pointed out that spending on responsible gaming initiatives pales in comparison to the money made via NY sports betting.
“$5.7 million has been spent on problem gambling in New York,” said John Coppola, executive director of the New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers. “That’s less than 1% of revenue from sports betting. That’s ridiculously inappropriate and unacceptable.”
Coppola added that those looking to do more on the issue are often starting from scratch.
“We have to start with building an infrastructure and having a meaningful investment. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to get this right. If there’s going to be a shift away from seeing a problem gambler as a good customer, if we’re going to address the needs of that person, it’s going to take a lot of work.”
Balancing NY sports betting boom and public interest
David Donovan, president of the New York State Broadcasters Association, also weighed in.
“We’re balancing the public interest, the need to protect children and those with addictive proclivities. If you look at the last several months, advertising revenue went through the roof. It exploded. The traveling tent show came to New York, and frankly, a lot of my guys made a lot of money. It triggers a response, ‘what about kids?’ Since the initial surge, the demand for advertising has diminished. In particular, it shifted to more sports-formatted radio and television.”
Rather than limiting current platforms, Donovan added, existing outlets should provide education to current and potential New York bettors.
“More speech is better than less speech,” he said. “We have an obligation to educate the public … I don’t think it’s possible to ban ways for our kids to get information. There’s too much out there.”
Importance of self-regulation while gambling
Near the end of the panel, the focus shifted to ways in which the sports betting industry could attack problem gambling head-on. Coppola reiterated the need to start from the ground up.
“My concern right now is we don’t have a place to start from. How do you hard-wire what you do? This is how it should be done. How do we take care of people who will have problems as a direct result? There has to be a way of not demonizing people who have that issue.”
Pascrell passionately drove home the responsibilities operators have in this regard.
“It’s the commercially responsible thing to do,” he said. “If you do not address this issue, every other regulator in the country will come down on you like a ton of bricks.
“This industry’s great at checking boxes. We’re great at that. If you as an operator look at that 1-800 number on your consumer-facing page as managing responsibility, I don’t think your company’s going to last.”