Under New Management: Business as Usual

Melencolia (A. Durer 1514) file from Wikipedia

Melencolia (A. Durer 1514) file from Wikipedia

A press release dated 20 Feb 2013 announces the formation of  “The Responsible Play Partnership”  to bring together the newly formed NYS Gaming Commission, OASAS (Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services) and NYS Council on Problem Gambling.   The full text may be seen at  http://www.gaming.ny.gov/pdf/press_022013.pdf    I have excerpted one  line and five paragraphs from it, making no changes within the excerpts, which  are in italics.  I have added commentary at the top,  among the paragraphs and at the bottom.

None of the proposed actions is itself a bad idea.  The total package, however,  is wholly inadequate to deal with compulsive and problem gambling in the state now.   Moreover, it takes no account of  new gamblers moving into these two categories  if, as the Governor wants,  seven new casinos are eventually licensed.  Casinos are hardly mentioned.

 … The Responsible Play Partnership will include the following components:

 Swift enforcement of age restriction laws: New York law prohibits gambling under the age of 18 at all OTBs, horse racing facilities and casinos. The current legal purchase age for Lottery tickets is 18 and 21 in establishments that sell alcoholic beverages. Similar to state enforcement efforts that prevent alcoholic beverage sales to underage buyers, the Responsible Play Partnership will help to enforce the age restriction laws for gambling:

  • The Council on Problem Gambling is coordinating with various alcohol and substance abuse councils across the State to carry out underage compliance checks at various locales, with Gaming Commission staff accompanying them. Underage volunteers will attempt to place bets, purchase tickets and/or engage in gambling activities at lottery retailers, Quick Draw locales, off-track betting and E-Z Bet locations, race tracks and video lottery terminal facilities across the state.
  • When violations occur and where possible, Gaming Commission personnel on-hand will issue an immediate notice to the venue outlining the violation and any applicable disciplinary action.
  • Violations could result in fines, suspensions or revocation of an entity’s license to participate or provide such services in New York.

 Comments: 

  • Stiff  barriers  to underage gambling are good.  There is no mention, however,  of  how intensive or extensive  the micro-sting operations will be.  Penalties do not seem stiff —  violations “could”   result in  fines  etc.  
  • I expect the  RPP has no authority over  tribal casinos; thus, no mention here of  including   them.   If  non-tribal casinos are introduced, would the RPP be sending its underage undercover agents into those?
  • Is the RPP going to say anything now about the proposal mentioned in New York Times (21 Feb 2013 pp A19 and A22)  to allow  persons under 21 to play Quick Draw in bars?   If  truly responsible, the RPP should not merely accede to checking on compliance with changes in law that deliberately  increase exposure to gambling.  It should contest such changes.

 Proper resources at facilities to identify and address problem gambling: The Gaming Commission will mandate that VLT locations, off-track betting facilities and race tracks in the State  submit a report indicating how they currently handle individuals showing signs of  being problem gamblers. The Commission will evaluate these measures with OASAS, the Council on Problem Gambling and future partners to issue improved consistent policies to all facility operators.

 Comment:  This empty rule will probably get some token compliance hardly worth the paper it’s written on.   It is impossible  that  any of the listed types of facility will look in good faith for  “signs of being problem gamblers.”  For one thing, they don’t have the staff  in settings (e.g. racinos)  which  improve profit margin by mechanization and depersonalization.  Moreover, they have a fiscal reason to be blind to problems unless they anticipate  frequent  inspection and a harsh penalty for failure.   This brings us  to the central statistic  of predatory gambling:  a large proportion of  the  gross returns after winnings are paid out  comes from the small proportion of the gamblers who are compulsive or problem gamblers.  Grinols and Omorow* estimated 35-50% at the average casino, from about 4% of the adult population.   No  sensible gambling  locale will risk offending its best customers and driving them to a competitor by confronting them with the always-denied suggestion that there might be a problem.    No floor manager wants to be fired for remonstrating, even gently,  with  a  longtime customer  who is sure to deny what is felt as an accusation.

Casinos know a great deal about customers, but can always claim that if someone has left $40,000 on their tables in the last year they have no responsibility to know where that money came from.  Is it chump change to a wealthy heir or is it a spouse’s I.R.A.?   Casinos are off-limits to state regulators now in NYS (as NY casinos are all tribal)  but if non-tribal ones are legalized as the Governor wants,  they would theoretically be very important  in identifying problem gamblers.   A major part of the Governor’s idea for new commercial casinos was to regulate (as well as tax) them in a way that tribal casinos are not regulated or taxed.  It is odd  that the RPP omits casinos in their announcement.

 For that matter, lottery ticket sellers and Quick Draw locales (admittedly thousands of times more numerous than the other settings and harder to monitor) are also exempted from  watching for “signs.”  A small-town convenience store is probably better able to know which neighbor-customer  has a gambling problem than a busy racino, but certainly disinclined to report a worry.  The ticket-seller can always hope that tonight’s pick will at last be the lucky one.

The only persons really motivated to confront and point towards recovery an addicted or problem gambler are those around the gambler who are being exploited and hurt by him or her AND KNOW IT.   All too often these people have been deceived outright or bamboozled by co-dependency and fear into doing nothing effective.  One measure that could help those who are actually deceived by a casino-gambler (as opposed to paralyzed)  is that a monthly statement of wins and losses be mailed to each customer’s home address.  Such laws have been proposed in states with non-tribal casinos, but  never pass.  If  New York gets non-tribal casinos our state should have such a law.

Comprehensive, statewide self-exclusion policy: Current procedures for the exclusion of self-identified problem gamblers who request that they be prohibited from entering facilities or prohibited from participating in gaming activities are inconsistent, inadequate and/or non-existent throughout the state’s various gaming venues. The Gaming Commission will  work  with OASAS and the Council to identify ways to make self-exclusion policies more consistent and effective.

 Comment:  Another unexceptionable statement  too vague (except in its accurate critique of the status quo) to be any help.   Self-exclusion can help some persons if  properly implemented.    Working to improve policies is a fine idea.  Yet even if self-exclusion for one individual from one site for a fixed time could  be enforced and the come-ons to return actually stopped, it is not possible to imagine a system that would bar the subject from going to some  other  locale unless there were a futuristic (and expensive) setup using retinal scans at every Quick Draw parlor. 

Enhanced outreach and awareness: The New York State Lottery has prominently promoted OASAS’ HOPEline (1-877-8-HOPENY) at retail locations, on play cards and tickets, on every VLT and on signage at each gaming facility. The Gaming Commission will expand language referring to HOPEline and make it more prominent at OTB facilities, tracks and casinos, as well as online.

Comment:  The HOPEline is a perfectly good idea.  As of now, however, treatment programs have been cut so badly that in many counties there is none nearby.  The HOPEline without backup is a façade.  Some legislators express intent to get more funds to help treat problem gambling for OASAS.  Alas,  they do not express certainty those can be got,  nor has there been even a hint of  increased funding in the scanty enabling language so far revealed for the proposed amendment (Article VII part R)   See the quotation from Grinols and Omorow at the * below.  

 

Working group to improve responsible gaming policies and programs: The Gaming Commission, OASAS and the Council on Problem Gambling will establish a standing working group to evaluate the State’s existing responsible gaming policies and programs and identify ways to enhance such measures. The working group will issue recommendations to the Gaming Commission for its implementation.

Comment:  I’m sure a  working group will make  recommendations.  The Gaming Commission is, however, at least as  interested in raising revenue for government as it is in reducing to zero the prevalence and the incidence of gambling addiction and problem gambling.  It will implement what it likes.  No  Commission does otherwise.

The business model of  the casino industry  is to foster  irresponsible gambling while pretending not to.  The model of state lotteries is no better,  though  it is disguised under the banner of “for education.”  

Footnote to *  above         The background for this crucial statistic is found in a paper by Earl Grinols and Omorow in vol. 16 of Journal of Law and Commerce 1996-97  pp 49-87.  In a table there the authors reckon that 39% of the revenue at a hypothetical casino comes from pathological gamblers, 52% from pathological gamblers and problem gamblers combined.  They add

“The fact that the gambling industry is dependent on problem and pathological gamblers for a large share of its revenues casts doubt on the feasibility of treating pathological gamblers with industry tax revenues to prophylactically prevent the externality costs of gambling addiction.  The treatment cost to the industry would be high and these costs would be in addition to taxes on gambling gross revenue that are already high in many cases.  Further, if treatment were successful in preventing gambling problems and pathological gambling it would significantly reduce industry revenues.  It is probably safe to conclude that not everyone in the casinos industry would willingly forgo 35 percent or more of their revenues.”

The opinions in this commentary are those  of   Stephen Q,  Shafer MD, MPH and do not necessarily reflect those of all members of CAGNY.  Permission is granted to quote  at any length without editorial changes.  Please make attribution to the post using the permalink above. http://cagnyinf.org/wp/23feb2013under…iness-as-usual/ ‎

One thought on “Under New Management: Business as Usual

  1. An excellent critique of a state initiative designed to allay criticism and opposition to casino expansion., to allay, without providing real solutions. OASAS is mandated to “maintain a neutral stance” on gambling. Why neutral? Can they be said to be neutral on drug addiction?

    The former mayor of San Diego gambled a billion dollars in Las Vegas, New Jersey, lost 13 million. Nobody took her aside and said “No more”

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