More Collaboration, Less Conflation Needed To Enhance U.S. Responsible Gambling Efforts

April 24, 2024
As gaming continues to expand across the U.S., the executive director of the newly formed Responsible Online Gaming Association believes there has been an increased emphasis on responsible gambling but a lack of collaboration between industry and experts.

As gaming continues to expand across the U.S., the executive director of the newly formed Responsible Online Gaming Association (ROGA) believes there has been an increased emphasis on responsible gambling but a lack of collaboration between industry and experts.

“There’s an under importance of collaboration not only among the industry but collaborations with researchers, with experts and other organizations that are in this space,” said Dr. Jennifer Shatley, ROGA’s executive director and president of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling.

ROGA, which was launched last month with an initial $20m budget, will advocate and fund independent research into the effectiveness of responsible gambling measures, promote best practices and create an independent clearinghouse to allow for data sharing among major U.S. operators, among other initiatives.

The initial ROGA members are BetMGM, bet365, DraftKings, Fanatics Betting & Gaming, Hard Rock Digital, Penn Entertainment and FanDuel.

“Responsible gaming is very different from problem gambling,” Shatley said at last week's East Coast Gaming Congress in Atlantic City. “The conflation of the two, I think, is what has been a problem for responsible gambling quite frankly over the years.”

That conflation means that every time there is discussion of responsible gambling, Shatley said, the conversation immediately shifts to problem gambling and identifying problem gamblers.

“The intent of responsible gaming is these are prevention programs, and that is the role the industry should be playing,” she said. “How do you promote responsible gaming? How do you prevent problems from occurring? And if you are identifying risky behavior, how do you motivate behavioral change to prevent problems from happening?” 

Shatley said one consequence is many players do not engage with responsible gambling programs at all.

“They should be using these tools, but they are not,” she said. “So, we have basically defeated the purpose because we made them [problem gambling and responsible gaming] the same thing. It is all about identifying problems when it should be about preventing them.”

Carolyn Hawley, president of the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling, said that many states are actually shortsighted in terms of how they are spending funds toward prevention and awareness.

“A lot of it is just funding a helpline number and that’s not enough,” Hawley said. “Responsible gaming is so important. We have to start before that person ever goes to a casino or ever opens a sports-betting app, because problems are developing much earlier.”

Based on her experience in treating gambling problems, Hawley said she knows that many individuals do not take problem gambling seriously.

“There is this myth that gaming doesn’t cause harm or [only] a lesser harm,” she said. “We want to shift that when we talk about responsible gaming.”

Hawley and Shatley were joined for a panel discussion on responsible gaming policy by Jamie McKelvey, deputy attorney general with the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, and Jonathan Aiwazian, CEO of idPair.

Shawn Fluharty, a Democratic state Representative in West Virginia and president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) who moderated the discussion, asked panelists if the newly introduced federal bill known as the Gambling Addiction Recovery, Investment, and Treatment (GRIT) Act was a necessity or whether there was concern the bill could open up the industry to more federal involvement in general.

The GRIT Act would specifically set aside 50 percent of the federal excise tax of 0.25 percent of sports-betting handle in the U.S. for gambling addiction treatment and research.

The legislation was introduced on January 11 in the House by Representative Andrea Salinas of Oregon and in the U.S. Senate by Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, both Democrats.

“I think part of it is the view that the industry doesn’t care about problem gambling,” Shatley said of the bill's introduction. “I want to clarify that. If the federal government is collecting that tax then it should be going to fund all of those things.”

idPair's Aiwazian noted that the GRIT Act would not repeal the federal tax but was instead aimed at “reassigning the funds to problem gambling research and treatment. It goes back to the states in the end. It is a good thing. I think our industry should support it.”

Hawley agreed, saying “we want to make gambling a safer experience.”

The issues discussed by the panel were also touched upon by Caesars Entertainment CEO Tom Reeg in his presentation to the conference.

Caesars was one of eight major sports-betting operators to receive a letter on March 21 from Blumenthal expressing concern over marketing and business practices, with the companies given a deadline of April 8 by the U.S. senator from Connecticut to provide detailed responses to 15 specific questions.

Reeg told attendees that he had spent the previous week answering that letter from Blumenthal.

“As we continue down the road, we as an industry have to develop responsibly in a manner that doesn’t encourage federal intervention,” Reeg said.

“Responsible gaming is not just a [public relations] problem that we throw some money at and hope it goes away.”

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