See no gambling, hear no gambling, speak no gambling, think no gambling: A 10473

Epic Showdowns 23451208866_cc0bc9a8e0Comments on A 10473 New York State Assembly  “Relates to the registration and regulation of interactive fantasy sports contests”

Introduced by Mr. Pretlow May 27 2016

S 6793A was brought out  in the Senate by Mr Bonacic on May 24.  It is not a “same as” version but not very different.  Comments in the body of this post concern the Assembly version. Do not write to a Senator about the Assembly version.  See the appendix when  writing a Senator.  A letter can be done that can go to either chamber.

 Epic Showdowns

Coalition Against  Gambling in New York  (CAGNY), an all volunteer nonprofit  organization, urges every member of the NY State legislature to vote against the  bill if it comes to the  floor in his or her chamber and to vote no on any larger  omnibus bill into which A 10473  or S 6793A may have been  inserted late in the session.  Seven  really good reasons:

We will return to each of these in more detail below

  1. Assumes that entering contests in fantasy sports is not gambling,  attempting an end run around the NYS constitutional prohibition on gambling.  It  is gambling and internet gambling to boot.  Only a few states allow internet gambling though all but two now allow certain forms of gambling such as casinos, card rooms or state lotteries.
  1. Considers certain video games to be “sports events” and  players to be “athletes.”    The bill would allow entry (that is betting)  in a myriad of  “Interactive Fantasy Sports Contests.”  IFSC provide a vastly  greater platform  of events around the world than the stick and ball sports to which fantasy “sports” “contests” of  the big operators in the USA have previously been confined.  It would allow Daily Fantasy eSports (DFeS) without ever mentioning that term.
  1. Consumer protection has no watchdog,  Everything is based on self-report by “registrants” [operators]  to the Gaming Commission or by “authorized players” (bettors) to registrants.
  2. The drive to be “regulated” comes from companies that expect to profit from “regulation.”  They want to create a market.   Lobbying and outright corruption go hand in hand with such forces.  Draft Kings was getting ready last September to launch its own DFeS.
  3. Revenue to the state from licensing fees and from a 15% tax on what operators hold after paying out winnings would not be even enough to cover the cost of  “regulation.”  This is explicit in the justification section of the bill memo (see below),
  4. Legalizing internet gambling in NYS would not increase tourism, would not promote “economic development,”  would not provide “support  for education”  or “property tax relief.”   The proposed legislation is a concession to special interest groups who want to resume hustling New Yorkers.
  5. Expansion of gambling, particularly to the internet, worsens social injustice.
  1. Gambling or not?

This  dishonest bill  ignores the opinion of the NYS AG, shared by other states’ AGs and other parties  (football player Joe Namath, radio host Mike Francesca) that Daily Fantasy Sports as practiced by DraftKings and FanDuel is gambling.  It  does not even acknowledge  a controversy in NYS or in any state.  The bill avoids the issue by (a) limiting use of words that remind anyone of gambling and (b) implying that the AG’s complaint about DK and FD was related only to insider trading allegations. To illustrate (a), a text analysis:

  • Term or word                         number times used in text of bill

 

“gambling”                                          0

“gaming”                                             once   § 1401   ¶ 3

“internet”                                            0

“skill”                                                  0

“betting” or “bet”                                0

“wager”                                               0

“online”                                               once   § 1401   ¶ 8

“esports”  or e-sports or eSports         0

 

(b)   Watch the subtlety (deviousness) of the justification in the  bill memo, which opens by saying that the AG’s office began in October to investigate “into whether employees of the two biggest daily fantasy sports companies, DraftKings and FanDuel, were able to gain an unfair financial advantage in daily fantasy football contests by exploiting access to non-public data” and continues   “On November 10, the Attorney General’s office issued a notice to DraftKings and FanDuel demanding that they stop accepting wagers in New York.”  It never gives the reason for the demand, namely that the AG considered the operations of DK and FD to be forms of gambling, which with certain exceptions is illegal in New York State.  The justification  pretends that the AG’s objection was to charges of  insider trading.  The AG’s main  motivation,  however,  was not insider trading nor false advertising.  It is given in the office’s memorandum   below (italics added).

“The New York State Constitution has prohibited bookmaking and other forms of sports gambling since 1894. Under New York law, a wager constitutes gambling when it depends on either a (1) “future contingent event not under [the bettor’s] control or influence” or (2) “contest of chance.” So-called Daily Fantasy Sports (“DFS”) wagers fit squarely in both these definitions, though by meeting just one of the two definitions DFS would be considered gambling.  DFS is nothing more than a rebranding of sports betting. It is plainly illegal. 

  1. “Daily Fantasy Sports” becomes  “Interactive  Fantasy Sports Contests”

Since video game competitions are a booming activity around the world,  the bill would allow betting (or in DFS terms, paying to enter a contest) on a vastly greater platform  of events around the world than the stick and ball sports to which fantasy “sports” “contests” of  the big operators in the USA have been confined.  The bill is dishonest.  It uses  empty harmless-sounding terms (“interactive,”  “contests”) to hide a huge intended expansion of opportunities to “play” on the internet.  The most outrageous terminology calls video game players  “athletes”  so that competition in video games can be called a sports event.

http://www.legalsportsreport.com/4037/daily-fantasy-esports-market-overview/  Chris Grove on DFeS and the potential for growth September 18 2015.  Quoting below

“Daily fantasy eSports (DFeS) is essentially identical to the mainstream DFS product. The competition structure, lobby, promotions, and other core elements are more or less interchangeable.  The difference is that DFS players build rosters from athletes in stick-and-ball sports, while DFeS players build rosters from  athletes in eSports like Dota 2 and League of Legends.”

http://www.legalsportsreport.com/4025/draftkings-fantasy-esports/  Dustin Gowker posted Sept 18  2015 on the announcement that DK was preparing to launch its own DFes site.

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/05/29/sport/esports-revolution-revenue-audience-growth/   posted May 29  by a CNN writer describes the potential for growth.  League of Legends is a game that DK  had  its eyes on last September for  its  DFeS offering.  A quote from this is below.

“The eSports industry has been experiencing  double digit growth for several years and according to the research group Newzoo, it boasts a global community of 148 million enthusiasts. That number is projected to hit 215 million by 2019. Just one game — “League of Legends” — drew an audience of 36 million for its World Championship last year, that’s more viewers than the NBA Finals.”

  1. Consumer “ Protection”

The bill looks very consumer-protective, addressing many of the criticisms made of DK and FD, seemingly correcting those weaknesses.  For example,  it requires  that the mean and median net winnings of all players be made public and that “highly experienced players” be labelled as such.  It requires that payments be made to authorized players on time.

Loopholes abound.  Here are some

If someone becomes highly experienced in the future but was not on the registration date,  what mechanism ensures he will be labelled?  Who checks for omissions? Who checks for aliases?

Can college students on e-sports scholarships be picked for an IFSC team, or is their “sport”  a “collegiate sport” and therefore not eligible? Click here for more on athletic scholarships.

Persons under age eighteen are not supposed to be authorized. §1404 (b) (iii) says each registrant shall take all appropriate steps to confirm that  an individual opening an account is not a minor.

There is no definition of “appropriate.”  Is this an elaborate investigation  like New Jersey’s “Know Your Customer?”  Nothing is said.

Regulation, apparently on the honor system,  is based on self-report, of  registrants to “the commission”  [ the Gaming Commission without the  word Gaming] or of  “authorized players” to registrants.

The proposed  plan for voluntary self-exclusion has no supervision and no time frame.  Someone could self-exclude from one site,  then join another  tomorrow.  §1404 (d) reads enable authorized players to exclude themselves from contests  and take  reasonable  steps  to prevent such players from entering a contest  from which they have excluded themselves;

What are “reasonable” steps?  The  Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013 spells out more detail on self-exclusion than “reasonable steps.”

The use of scripts is prohibited.  (Section 1401 para 7)  Without these computerized routines for composing teams, sharks and minnows would be on nearly equal footing.  This would move things toward a truly fair game, closer to what seasonal fantasy sports were and are.   “Highly experienced players” (AKA sharks)  will not approve.  The use of scripts is hard to prove  though easy to suspect.   Scripts  will still be used sub rosa.  The proposed legislation says nothing about penalties.

4. Who is behind the insertion  of  eSports into  “regulation” of DFS?   The drive to  “regulate” comes from companies that expect to profit from “regulation.”  They want to create a  market much bigger than current DFS.   Lobbying and outright corruption go hand in hand with such forces.  Draft Kings was getting ready last September to launch its own Daily Fantasy eSPort (DFeS) with the video game League of Legends.

In Illinois last week  a similar bill was tabled by its sponsor for the current session because of allegations of proposed vote-buying by a FanDuel lobbyist whose hapless explanation (“corporate social responsibility goals”)  is here .

5. Revenue to New York State

Assuming “the commission” has the staff  to add regulating IFSC to its other duties, who is going to pay for the effort?    The Justification section of the bill Memo addresses the question.

“By registering and taxing interactive fantasy sports contests, this bill will also bring about a new and abundant source of revenue for New York State. Such funds will help [emphasis added] pay for the cost of regulation.”

How abundant will the funds be if they will not even cover the cost of regulation?  It they don’t, what source will?  This writer suspects that if this legislation passes not very much will be spent on enforcing regulations, and that some or most of the revenue will go  into the General Fund.  Realizing income to state coffers  by stinting on regulation of gambling is hardly a new concept but, sad-to-say, appeals to budget-makers.

Admitting  that legalizing internet gambling in New York State will not  pay for “regulating” internet gambling in New York State shows  that the  drive to legalize internet gambling in New York State is not to help all New Yorkers.  It is to help internet gambling special interests.

6. Tourism, “economic development” “support for education” “property tax relief”  CAGNY has long said that “benefits” such as the above to localities, regions or states are illusory,  really net losses when hidden costs are accounted for.  This opinion, I  admit, was was not shared by a number of  lawmakers who voted for “second passage” of the “casino amendment” in 2013 while saying “I don’t personally support casino expansion.”

Legislators who  previously voted to expand gambling in New York State because they believed the benefits to their constituents outweighed the costs can  vote their consciences against this  Interactive Fantasy Sports Contest legislation.   It  does not even pretend to offer any such economic benefits to the people of NY State.  Nor does it enjoy popular support.  A recent Siena poll showed 45% of respondents oppose legalization of Daily Fantasy Sports,  37% want it, 17% undecided.

Passage of this legislation is a handout from all New Yorkers  to corporate special interests that can’t even pretend their plans will improve the quality of our lives.

6. Social injustice Government-sanctioned predatory gambling wreaks hardship and suffering  not just on gamblers but on  their families, friends, relative, employers, employees, clients and more.  It contributes to social injustice.  The  60+ posts on this site pile up the evidence.

Permission is hereby given by the author, Stephen Q. Shafer  MD MPH,   to reproduce this text in whole or part as long as the permalink above is cited. The photo image is from flickerCC  title “Epic Showdowns” 95205711@NO2/23451208866.

Since publication on June 1 this post has been slightly revised.

Appendices

From § 1401 ¶ 8   The term  “Interactive fantasy sports contest” makes its debut in proposed legislation

18    8. “Interactive fantasy sports contest” or “contest”  shall  mean  any

19  online fantasy or simulation sports game or contest offered by an opera-

20  tor  or  registrant  in  which an authorized player manages a fantasy or

21  simulation sports team composed of athletes from an amateur  or  profes-

22  sional sports organization and which meets the following conditions:

23    (a)  the  value of any prizes and awards offered to authorized players

24  shall be established and made known to such players in  advance  of  the

25  contest, and such value shall not be determined by the number of author-

26  ized players or the amount of any entry fees paid by such players;

27    (b)  no  winning outcome shall be based on the score, point spread, or

28  performance of a single sports team, or any combination of such teams;

29    (c) no winning outcome shall be based solely on any single performance

30  of an individual athlete in a single sport or athletic event; and

31    (d) no game or contest shall be based on a prohibited sports event.

Comparing the Senate Version to the Assembly version:  The Senate version is not as sanitized as the Assembly version.  The word “gambling” is allowed, as is “gaming.”   “Internet” appears   The Senate version recaps and swallows whole  tortuous arguments by counsel for FD and DK that skill is material, making the process not gambling.  No mention  that the Attorney General has ever said a word about DFS.   The  Assembly version avoids all discussion of controversy as to whether DFS is gambling.

The Senate version offers  another gambit by DK and FD,  that since seasonal fantasy sports were carved out from the  UIGEA of 2006, Daily Fantasy Sports ( a later development) have been too.  This to me is like saying that cars with engines should be allowed into a soapbox derby as long as they have four wheels.

The Senate version  is even more vague than the Assembly’s on what sorts of “interactive fantasy sports contests:  would be allowed.  Neither version mentions eSports (video gaming).

The Assembly version prohibits high school sports; the Senate’s does not.

Senate: 15% tax on gross revenue from New York players  Assembly 15% on gross revenue, residence not mentioned.

Senate version even looser than Assembly on what “compulsive participants” might do to remove themselves.  Assembly calls them “compulsive players.”

Senate version more specific about how to keep minors out.

Both versions are vapid and vague about how to prevent use of scripts.  Neither prescribes punishment.

Both versions share a unilateral assumption that Daily Fantasy Sports is not gambling,  though they get there by different paths. The Senate version parrots Mssrs Mastro and Boies, counsel for two of the big companies.  The Assembly version is a thick  whitewash.  They are asking the legislature to make an end run  around the prohibition against gambling in the state constitution. Both versions provide paper-kitten protection against being hustled and fleeced. Neither version offers any benefit, credible or not, to the vast majority of New Yorkers.  Casino expansion and Lottery expansion have been sold to New Yorker by mirages. Promoters of “Interactive Fantasy Sports Contests”  (hitherto called internet sports betting)  don’t  offer mirages to the general population.   Could it be that  campaign contributions are  a better deal ? This legislation is for special interests.

Archives about the AG’s case against FanDuel and DraftKings

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/11/sports/football/draftkings-fanduel-new-york-attorney-general-tells-fantasy-sites-to-stop-taking-bets-in-new-york.html?_r=1   NY Times November 11,  the day after AG announced the cease and desist letter

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/fanduel-draftkings-assure-users-remain-open-article-1.2431300   NY Daily News from November 11

http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/editorial-fantasy-meet-reality-article-1.2431796  NYDN editorial says DFS is gambling.

http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/fantasy-sports-predatory-gambling-dangerous-article-1.2431896  sidebar by Stephen Shafer in Daily News article linked to above

http://www.ag.ny.gov/pdfs/DK_MOL.pdf complaint against Draft Kings submitted Nov 17, 2015

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ag-schneiderman-bad-gamble-bluff-law-article-1.2441071  op- ed by AG Schneiderman November 19

http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/fantasyland-n-y-bets-albany-casino-article-1.2652600 Daily News  holds its great position  May 31 2016

 

“Fair Game,” “Fair Game” “Fair Game” and Daily Fantasy Sports

Super Bowl 50

Super Bowl 50

What is “a fair game?”  According to game theory,   it’s one in which all participants have an equal chance to win whatever is at stake.  A classical lottery is a fair game in that sense.     Any game of pure chance, even when the house gets a cut on every round, is a “fair game”  among  the wagering  participants  if there’s no cheating.

There is another meaning to “a fair game,”  this  one  from sports: a contest that follows explicit rules agreed to by all participants and does not allow cheating.  No pretense in this kind of fair game that all contenders have an equal chance to win.  Skill, that is getting and holding an advantage over the opponent(s),  is paramount. Strength, stamina, strategy, practice, motivation and innate talent are some elements of athletic skill.    Pitting an Olympic volleyball team all out against the junior varsity of a 300-student high school is “fair”  in this sense  if  the rules of volleyball  are followed, yet everyone who hears about such a “contest”  knows it’s “not fair.”  Even if the rules are strictly followed, the HS team has absolutely no control over the objective  outcome, i.e. who wins.   By contrast, a big urban marathon is “fair”  in the sports sense and in the ethical sense.  Everyone is aware that among 5000 female entrants the first-place finisher will be one of twenty women identified days before.  The other runners have no thought of winning.  Who places first is not under their control.  They do, however,  have control over other outcomes such as logging a personal best or completing their third marathon of the year or  simply finishing.   These events (accomplishments) have subjective, not objective,   value.

Live poker has a different skill set than athletics.  A trained memory, long attention span, ability to mentally reckon probabilities and a knack for reading other people’s body language are some of the requisites.

What is “fair” in the sports sense becomes unfair in playing for a money prize or for public honor when disparities in the multiple dimensions of skill  are overwhelming.    The facade of fairness can also warp into actual unfairness  when  the supposedly explicit rules are vague,  deliberately obscure or pliable or not enforced.  This leads down a slippery slope through “gamesmanship” to outright cheating.  Both situations – disparities in skill or bendable rules – mean that some of the participants  have no control over an objective outcome like winning money or  public accolades.

Now drop the “a” and take the phrase “fair game.”  This today  usually means someone whom circumstances (e.g. elected public office,  past history) have made a subject of  criticism or ridicule.  The original meaning came from field sports: quarry taken under established rules such as “don’t shoot sitting ducks.”   Such rules are not to bring parity in survival chances between hunter and hunted. They are just codes against cheating.   Examples of  this kind of “fair game”  are birds shot on the fly or, to some,   rats penned with a terrier.

Learned counsel for Daily Fantasy Sports distance their clients from the “fair game”  model of gambling, declaring that a small fraction of participants take home 90%  of the prize money.

Learned counsel argue that this handful are more skilled than the others, which no one denies.

Learned counsel argue that for the elite handful the outcome (cumulative money won over time )  is under their control; therefore, “it’s not gambling.”    Perhaps it isn’t  for the handful, but it is for everyone else who has no control over the outcome once they are “swimming with the sharks.”

Learned counsel want courts to consider DFS a fair game in the second sense: people enter of  their own free will,  aware  of  rules.  In that sense it is as fair, or as unfair, as the volleyball matchup above.  All persons who enter become “fair game”  for the elite handful whose skill is in sourcing or building  computerized routines to select their players.

If a group of people unfamiliar with  National Football League players were invited to  play a few weeks of  DFS,  90% of the winnings would not follow 10% of the players.  One week’s big winner would flop the next.  If the group is then joined by a friendly stranger who uses customized computer programs to pick his team, that f.s. might fare badly in one week, but would be sure to win more money over time than anyone  else.  Among  players of equally low skill, chance rules completely,  as it nearly does among those  who are all at the same high level.  The effect of skill on outcome emerges when skill levels vary across the players.  Throw in one player much better than all others and the role of chance goes down for him with respect to the rest. He may be so well-informed that he is doing prudent investing, not gambling.    Everyone else is gambling.

DFS is a hustle.  It is not a “fair game” in the game theory sense.  It is not fair in the sports sense because too many matchups are patently not fair, but rather the equivalent of the volleyball game  above.  The only “fair game”  in the story  is the group of new players who jump in thinking they can win big,   not knowing what they are up against.

The prizes come from “entry fees.” which DFS partisans say are not wagers.  If the guaranteed prize pool is $100,000  the companies say entries are closed at  a fixed pre-specified ceiling above  $100,000 such as $112,000.   If  $112,000  of entry fees came in and $100,000  is paid out to winners, the company pockets $12,000 for its trouble in enabling the “competition.”  If only $90,000 of entry fees came in the company has to pony up the other $10,000 to meet the purse money.  DFS is thus “house-banked.”   This gives a very strong incentive to fill every round.  Thus the advertising blitz to recruit new entrants and retain previous ones with accounts of fabulous winnings by smart neophytes.   A house-banked game is different from an office March madness pool where the amount going to the winners is determined by how many people have entered at the start.  If each entry costs a dollar, and twenty enter, then twenty dollars is divided.  If a hundred enter, the pool is $100.

DFS is  a house-banked hustle.  That’s gambling.

Permission is granted to reproduce this essay in whole or part as long as the permalink is cited.  The opinions are those of the author, Stephen Q. Shafer and are not necessarily shared by any or all members of Coalition Against Gambling in New York .  The photo image is from Flickr Creative Commons 24805517021_3fc6989ef3

Generally Recognized as Gambling: Daily Fantasy Sports

Testimony Before the Hearing on Daily Fantasy Sports held by Committees of the New York State Legislature,  8 December 2015

GamblinglosspictureMy name is Stephen Shafer. I chair Coalition Against Gambling in New York, an all-volunteer organization registered in Buffalo since 2007. Our members have different philosophies about gambling. The mainstream holds that not all gambling is bad for society or the individual. A March Madness pool where 100% of entry fees are paid out to winners, a game of cards among true friends, a bet on whether it was Yogi or Casey who made a certain remark – these actions don’t bother us. What does, and deeply, is predatory gambling – gambling in which some party profits predictably over time by preying on others. That party can be “the house” or “sharks” or both.

I think Attorney General Eric Schneiderman  is entirely right that Daily Fantasy Sports of the DraftKings and FanDuel type is gambling under New York State law; payback depends on a future contingent event that the person placing the stake cannot control. That person controls the selection of his fantasy team, but not the actual performances of the component athletes from which the outcome of the contest derives. A horseplayer uses skill to decide which horses to pick at for the trifecta, but where the horses place that day is not in her control. No one denies that is gambling.

Assuming DFS is gambling, it is certainly illegal. The State Constitution bans all gambling in New York State except (by specific amendments allowing regulated parimutuel, charitable gambling, Lottery and (as of 2013) up to seven non-Indian casinos in the future. There is no exception for any kind of betting on sports, either live action or fixed odds. There is no exception for internet gambling.

The business model of i-poker and online FS is similar to that of a casino or a state lottery:

  • Recruit people through their hopes of payoffs far greater than investments.
  • Keep their loyalty with frequent small payouts and tidings of rich payoffs to others.
  • Replace them as they burn out, go broke or jump ship.

Result:  some, far from all, of the internet  “players” become problem gamblers and addicted gamblers. They damage, even wreck, not only their own lives but those of all around them, the hidden victims of predatory gambling – spouses, children, parents, in-laws, siblings, employers, employees, clients, neighbors. With  “land-based” casinos and state lotteries, half the revenue (sometimes more than half) comes from problem and addicted gamblers, maybe 12-15% of customers. Their net losses are drained from someone else by deception or bullying or crime. These gamblers need help; so, in greater measure because there are far more of them, do those they are ripping off. My organization has great respect for clinicians and peers who help problem gamblers day to day. Our focus, however, is to stop expansion of predatory gambling. That’s why we hold that DFS and all forms of so-called i-gaming are illegal and should stay that way. That’s why we support the AG’s stance.

There are differences between the model for i-poker and online DFS on the one hand and that for casinos and government-run lotteries on the other. In the first group, “players” pay real attention to the action.   Some win more consistently than others through preparation (e.g. scripts in DFS) and mental probability calculations as in i-poker. This is called skill, though it can verge on insider trading in DFS. In the second group, no decision-making is needed beyond which card to buy or slot machine to go to.

In i-poker and DFS newcomers have no idea how they will fare. They don’t know how their skills stack up to those of other players, most of whom are strangers; moreover, chance has a big role. The game board changes day to day, hour to hour. They are really less well-informed about their chances of success than slot players who know they can expect long-term about 88-93 cents back for every $ invested.

In i-poker and online DFS there are two types of predator: the house, or operator, which takes a  percentage of the pot (“the rake”) or of pooled wagers (which DFS calls “entry fees”);  and the elite stratum of well-prepared pros or near-pros who pocket most of the money laid out  by everyone. In the typical casino or state Lottery setup – a slot machine – the house is the only predator, setting its expected payout % as it sees fit under regulation.

Operations with player predators (“sharks”) need prey (“ fish”) to contribute to the betting pool or join the poker game. Heavy advertisement with upfront incentives is the way to get new fish. Fish may know a lot about their sports, but few can match the preparations of the sharks.   Some fish will fall into the cycle of chasing losses that spells problem gambling. If there are indeed 500,000 DFS participants in New York State , then it is likely there are, or will be soon, at least 20,000 problem gamblers and addicted gamblers among them.

I surmise that the distribution of players’ net losses and net wins is different from that of a casino or Lottery. In the latter, the small fraction of users who are the most “involved” – that is, invest the most time and money– provide the lion’s share of gamblers’ net losses (= house’s net win). In DFS, the biggest investors are the few sharks, who divide among themselves as their winnings nearly all the pooled bets. The investments of problem gamblers and addicted gamblers are perhaps not as over-represented in the winners’ pot as they are (> = 50%) in the gross gaming revenue of a casino or a state Lottery. In that sense the AG’s action in ordering a shutdown of DFS is consumer protection as well as an effort to prevent the cultivation of problem gamblers.

Why don’t we see many problem gamblers or members of their circles here today?  Why do most complaints voiced to the media re DFS relate to how the player was cheated or had winnings withheld, not how he was suckered into layers of debt and despair?

  • Most problem gamblers and addicted gamblers are in denial at any given moment.
  • The culture of recovery says “Don’t make the casino/game/track or whatever responsible for your gambling problem. You take responsibility.” This keeps current and recovering problem gamblers from taking a public stand against gambling.
  • The many victims of state-sponsored predatory gambling who are not gamblers themselves (collateral casualties) need not be “gambling-neutral,” but are often too ashamed or guilty to speak out against the casino or the operator.

Thus DFS and other longer-established forms of internet gambling not legal in most states, like i-poker, have great potential for harm that reaches beyond the ostensible victims, beyond the problem gamblers themselves. This is why they are illegal.

To legalize illegal activities and “regulate” them is not a solution. It gives government a conflict of interest. Tight regulation lowers profit margins and hence government’s share.

When DFS have been unequivocally recognized in NYS courts as gambling and therefore incontestably illegal, the legislature should not cure these companies by legalization and regulation. Thank you.

Post script: the operations of Fan Duel and Draft Kings in New York State have not ceased since the AG called for that to happen.  They  continue  while the case is on appeal.  A decision appears unlikely before the end of 2016.

Permission is hereby granted to reproduce any part of this piece as long as the permalink above is cited.

Hold ’em Harmless?

high7

The following letter was sent by US mail on 26 October 2015 to the Delhi District office of State Senator John J. Bonacic.  An electronic version  with attachment was transmitted to the  Senator’s  e-mail three days later.

 

 

Dear Senator Bonacic,

At the hearing you held Sept 9 regarding S5302 there was good news: you gave at least a little time to the important question of whether legalizing i-poker would have an impact on problem gambling and gambling addiction. The bad news was that you readily accepted a “negdec”   from Mr Pappas of the Poker Players Alliance. I fear your questioning was to get this assurance of no harm onto the record.

Your questioning of Mr Pappas did not show the trial lawyer skills that Mr Featherstonaugh accorded you later in the hearing. Was this just a lapse in preparation, or was it deliberate? Whichever it was, your “OK” to Mr Pappas’s reply surely gave most listeners the false impression that internet gambling — of all kinds – has been well-studied and found not to be worse in any dimension for individuals or populations than other kinds of gambling. Not so.

I would be glad to meet with you and your staff to go over some basic principles of epidemiology and public health that should be applied to the important work you and your colleagues do. They are explained in the enclosed 12-page critique. Sad to say, the approach in the September hearing to this basic science  is no more valid than evaluating a corporation by whether it declared a profit or loss in the most recent annual report.

Sincerely,

Stephen Q. Shafer MD MPH

Chairperson,  Coalition Against Gambling in New York  917 453 7371

Below is the critique that was enclosed with the cover letter

Considerations of Internet Problem Gambling in the New York State Senate i-Poker Hearings of September 9 2015: an Epidemiologist’s Critique

Stephen Q. Shafer MD MA MPH                                              27 October 2015

 

The author is a retired Clinical Professor of Neurology, Columbia University and Chairperson of Coalition Against Gambling in New York, a non-profit all-volunteer organization registered in Buffalo.

 

During the Sept 9 2015 hearing on legalizing i-poker held by Senator Bonacic there was scant mention of the potential for i-poker or other forms of i-gambling to cause addiction or problem gambling or to sustain these conditions when they had developed in another setting such as a b and m [bricks and mortar] casino. Below is the nearest approach.

At about 15:50 Mr Bonacic, chairing, asked Mr Pappas, CEO of the Poker Players Alliance and the first person to testify, “Is there a ratio for the amount of people that play on line poker, gaming, as opposed to those that get addicted? Is it one in three hundred, one in five hundred?   Is it ascertainable?”

Senator Bonacic seems here to be groping for the prevalence of gambling addiction among persons who do i-poker or i-“gaming.” I expect he meant to make the ratio as he set it up  500 to one, not one in 500. He is certainly leading the witness towards a very low proportion of addicted gamblers among all on-line gamblers.  Note also that the question does not separate poker from other types of i-gambling. This is likely intentional, to blur distinctions in readiness for the transition I think he and associates plan, from two particular forms of i-poker to all forms of casino-type “gaming” on the internet and ultimately to i-betting on sports.

 Mr Pappas responded that he didn’t have notes in hand but that his written testimony gave backup. He summarized,    “There is not a discernible increase, not any increase.” Mr. Bonacic replied “OK. ”

Note well: Mr Pappas did not answer the question Senator Bonacic asked, which was about a “ratio,” not an increase. His response belonged to a question not put. Perhaps he had been expecting something like one of the following:

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Daily Fantasy Sports Is Internet Gambling and Illegal

220px-TheprocessionofthetrojanhorseintroybygiovannidomenicotiepoloOn Nov 10 2015  NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman  announced that his had issued  a cease and desist order to  Fan Duel and Draft Kings, the two largest operator of Daily Fantasy Sports.  He gave them five days to voluntarily close, which they did not do. The November 10 order  got  much  notice in the NY papers, with an editorial in the NY Times essentially supporting it,  though talking about “strict regulation.”   The Daily News had a 2-page news article      and an  editorial saying that the AG is correct, plus  an op-ed. The news article had a sidebar by the writer of this post..  The Post had a front page article, though their editorial took issue with  the AG’s action.

The Times article on Nov 11 provoked a flood of comments, most angry at the decision.    Dissenters generally used one or more  of four basic  arguments (1) skill is involved; so, it’s not gambling  (2) the NYS lottery holds a much higher proportion  of users’  losses  than do DFS operators,  yet the AG does not try to enjoin it  (3)  no one is being hurt by participation (4) the AG wants to get money for the state by imposing regulation.

My comments on these comments:

“Skill”  certainly determines success, but relatively  few participants have that skill,  It lets them  exploit the vast majority.  As the AG memo below says, this is still gambling.  Take a few minutes to watch TV satirist John Oliver on this.  A recent lawsuit in Alabama gives a another useful perspective on gambling.

The NYS Lottery is an abomination,  but it is technically legal with enough seniority in that status that even I can’t fault the AG for not now going after every aspect of it.  The floridly illegal aspects, like hybrid table games with physical dice,  I do wish he would challenge.

Full-blown cases of gambling addiction already spawned by DFS are not numerous, are still largely hearsay to my ears. It is still early.  Yet  the exploitation of  “fish”  (less expert participants) by “sharks”  with their computer routines is no less predatory than the behavior of a casino or a state lottery.  It’s just that in DFS there are two types of predator,  not one.  Besides the operator there are the sharks. The ad blitz of the last few months is meant to recruit  millions of fish by deceptive advertising.

To the fourth argument   I would reply that  the AG has not proposed to regulate DFS.  He has said they are illegal and should stop operating in NYS.  Devising regulations to legalize is not his job.  His motivation is to protect New York’s people from being exploited by illegal gambling and to enforce existing regulations.  It is up to  the legislature to regulate.

Daily Fantasy Sports herniated through a loophole in the 2006 Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and should be surgically reduced.  It is  a strong bridge to two activities that are at this time illegal in New York State and in most jurisdictions in this country: internet gambling not on sports, such as i-poker or internet casino “games” and betting on sports.  The bridge could reach  further,  to the gambling entrepreneurs’ promised land of legalized internet betting on sports.  DFS should not be “regulated.”  It should stay illegal.

Below is a forwarded message from the AG to the public and press,  a strong summary.

If you read this post, please send a comment to the AG to counter the pickets and telephone chains of complaint his office has been dealing with from DFS partisans.

Click here for a link to the AG’s office

Below is a press release from the AG dated November 17.  On Nov 19 Mr.  Schneiderman had an op-ed in the Daily News that complements the press release.  Either is a great source for writing a letter to the editor of a paper near to you.

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 17, 2015

New York City Press Office / 212-416-8060
Albany Press Office / 518-776-2427
nyag.pressoffice@ag.ny.gov
Twitter: AGSchneiderman

A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN SEEKS PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION AGAINST FANDUEL AND DRAFTKINGS

NEW YORK—Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed an enforcement action this morning in New York State Supreme Court in the County of New York, seeking a preliminary injunction against DraftKings and FanDuel.  The Attorney General’s suit details alleged violations of law by DraftKings and FanDuel.

The Attorney General’s memorandum of law and complaint against DraftKings can be found here and here. A copy of the memorandum of law and complaint against FanDuel can be found here and here.

The following are excerpts of the memorandum of law filed by the Office of the Attorney General:

  • The New York State Constitution has prohibited bookmaking and other forms of sports gambling since 1894. Under New York law, a wager constitutes gambling when it depends on either a (1) “future contingent event not under [the bettor’s] control or influence” or (2) “contest of chance.” So-called Daily Fantasy Sports (“DFS”) wagers fit squarely in both these definitions, though by meeting just one of the two definitions DFS would be considered gambling.  DFS is nothing more than a rebranding of sports betting. It is plainly illegal.
  • Yet FanDuel and DraftKings insist that DFS is not gambling because it involves skill. But this argument fails for two clear reasons. First, this view overlooks the explicit prohibition against wagering on future contingent events, a statutory test that requires no judgment of the relative importance of skill and chance—they are irrelevant to the question. Second, the key factor establishing a game of skill is not the presence of skill, but the absence of a material element of chance. Here, chance plays just as much of a role (if not more) than it does in games like poker and blackjack. A few good players in a poker tournament may rise to the top based on their skill; but the game is still gambling.  So is DFS.
  • FanDuel and DraftKings’ current denials about DFS constituting gambling are belied by how the sites depicted themselves in the past and how they portray themselves behind closed doors.  FanDuel’s DFS contests were designed by a veteran of the legal online betting industry in the United Kingdom, Nigel Eccles.  The company admitted to an early investor that its target market is male sports fans who “cannot gamble online legally.”
  • DraftKings depicts itself to investors in a similar fashion. For example, in one investor presentation, DraftKings pitched itself to a prospective investor by noting the “Global opportunity for online betting,” pointing to the massive revenue of the “global online poker market,” and making direct comparisons throughout the presentation to poker and sports wagering.
  • The CEO of DraftKings previously spoke openly about DraftKings as a gambling company.  He called DFS a “mash[-]up between poker and fantasy sports,” suggested that DraftKings operates in the “gambling space,” and  described its revenue model as “identical to a casino.”
  • The rejection of the gambling label by the DFS sites is particularly hard to square with the overt strategy of recruiting gamblers. For FanDuel, this has meant hiring a former top executive from Full Tilt, the online poker company, and affiliating with gambling industry stalwarts like “Vegas Insider” and BetVega, a sports betting and handicapping website. For DraftKings, this has meant aligning itself closely and negotiating sponsorships with other gambling ventures, like the World Series of Poker and the Belmont Stakes.
  • DraftKings has also embedded gambling keywords into the programming code for its website. Some of these keywords include “‘fantasy golf betting,’’ “weekly fantasy basketball betting,” ‘‘weekly fantasy hockey betting,” “weekly fantasy football betting,” “weekly fantasy college football betting,” “weekly fantasy college basketball betting,” “Fantasy College Football Betting,” “daily fantasy basketball betting,” and “Fantasy College Basketball Betting.” This increases the likelihood that search engines, like Google, will send users looking for gambling straight to the DraftKings site.
  • FanDuel’s advertisements commonly showcase testimonials from ostensibly ordinary DFS players (g.,“Zack from Fairfield, California”), and play up the ease of playing and of winning huge cash prizes…The reality is that like poker, blackjack, and horseracing, a small percentage of professional gamblers use research, software, and large bankrolls to extract a disproportionate share of DFS jackpots. With poker and DFS, professional players, known as “sharks,” profit at the expense of casual players, known as “minnows.” The numbers show that the vast majority of players are net losers, losing far more money playing on the sites than they win. DraftKings data show that 89.3% of DFS players had an overall negative return on investment across 2013 and 2014.
  • While irresponsibly denying their status as gambling companies, the DFS Sites pose precisely the same risks to New York residents that New York’s anti-gambling laws were intended to avoid. Experts in gambling addiction and other compulsive behaviors have identified DFS as a serious and growing threat to people at risk for, or already struggling with, gambling-related illnesses.
  • Jeffrey L. Derevensky, Director of the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behavior at McGill University, notes that, among other things, false or misleading representations of the skill involved in DFS “can lead players to a preoccupation with DFS, chasing of losses, and developing symptoms and behaviors associated with a gambling disorder.”

The illustration reproduces  a painting by Tiepolo with a timeless theme.  The opinions expressed in this post, aside from the quote by the AG’s office, are entirely those of the editor, Stephen Q. Shafer and do not necessarily reflect those of any or all other members of Coalition Against Gambling in New York.  Permission to reproduce in full or in part is hereby granted on condition that the permalink above is cited.

 

 

Online Poker Hearing Misses the Point

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The New York State Senate website has announced that the Senate Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee will ‘discuss the future of online poker in New York State’ at a hearing scheduled for 1:00 p.m. on September 9, Wednesday. ORAL TESTIMONY BY INVITATION ONLY

Coalition Against Gambling in New York believes that there should be no future for online poker.  Not invited to speak, we submit the statement below to  the record:

No form of internet gambling is now legal in NY. State Senator John  Bonacic’s bill S 5302 proposes to legalize internet poker. The upcoming  hearing looks like a shout-out to gambling interests*, including the Poker Players’ Alliance.  The Senator seems indifferent to social and constitutional legal issues about internet gambling.  According to Tight Poker,   his concern is how   it might profit NYS to legalize  i-poker ASAP.

Online poker is the thin end of the “legalization” wedge because some savants hold there can be enough skill in poker to make it  not gambling. They note that  a star  player may   win big over time, unlike a slot machine user. The vast majority  of players who aren’t stars, however, are certainly gambling. Outside “World Series” tournaments that draw skilled peers, the consistent big winners are sustained by  the predictable losses of the less apt, the more chance-tossed.

Ominously, were i-poker  “legalized,” other on-line games would likely follow. First would come those that have less, but still some, element of decision-making skill relative to chance than does poker. Later, with these precedents, would come casino “games” of pure chance, which everyone agrees are gambling.

If stymied by a future ruling that i-poker is gambling, the Senator may try a different tactic.   He knows that unless a bill to rebuild the longstanding federal ban on internet gambling passes soon, each state may make its own laws about internet gambling (except on sports). He may anticipate that the Legislature would concede him i-gambling after the trite argument that “Other states will be doing it; so, we should too and before them.” New York, however, has a constitutional prohibition against all types of gambling other than those that have been allowed in by amendment, most recently casinos. The Legislature has shown itself ever ready to re-define words like “lottery,” but it cannot amend the Constitution.  That would require a vote of the people, who have shown no special desire for internet gambling.

Article 1 § 9 . . .no lottery or the sale of lottery tickets, pool-selling, book-making, or any other kind of gambling, except lotteries operated by the state and the sale of lottery tickets in connection therewith as may be authorized and prescribed by the legislature, the net proceeds of which shall be applied exclusively to or in aid or support of education in this state as the legislature may prescribe, except pari-mutual betting on horse races as may be prescribed by the legislature and from which the state shall derive a reasonable revenue for the support of government, and except casino gambling at no more than seven facilities as authorized and prescribed by the legislature shall hereafter be authorized or allowed within this state; and the legislature shall pass appropriate laws to prevent offenses against any of the provisions of this section. (Amendment approved by vote of the people November 5, 2013.)

Sen. Bonacic will perhaps argue that i-gamblers can be required (the NJ model) to be registered with an  in-state casino, which they need never visit again.   He may assert that when “Prop 1” passed in 2013  it  implied this easy fix.  Plainly it did not.

Or, less likely, the Senator might try to graft internet gambling onto the New York State Lottery, requiring participants to register with a racino, not a licensed casino.

There are many arguments against i-gambling that we don’t take up here. Our focus today is on the wrongness of hearings that have nothing to do with whether internet poker should be made legal and everything with “When do we start?”  . Mr.  Bonacic acts as if legalizing internet poker in New York State is a mere formality, like closing a business deal with allies. Such arrogance should be called.

[*] In August, Tight Poker interviewed Sen. Bonacic about who had been invited to testify orally. “ ‘Lawmakers and various representatives of the gambling industry will be present at the hearing.’ Bonacic said: ‘I’m bringing in Caesars and MGM plus all of my [emphasis added] casinos, racinos, and OTBs. We are going to have a discussion on the pros and cons of moving the legislation.’ ”

Permission to reproduce this in whole or in part is hereby granted by cagnyeditor as long as the permalink above is cited.  The Trojan Horse painting is by Tiepolo.

Hidden social costs of predatory gambling

 

Under the rug

Under the rug

Statement of Stephen Q, Shafer MD MPH to the Gaming Facility Location Board of the New York State Gaming Commission at the hearing in Poughkeepsie on Sept 23, 2014

My name is Stephen Shafer. A retired physician who now lives in Saugerties, I am Chairperson of Coalition Against Gambling in New York. I was born and brought up in Dutchess County, where my daughter and her family now reside.

Hudson Valley Casino and Resort has presented an analysis of health impacts as incomplete as an analysis of vehicle traffic limited to trucks. The report finds regional health care facilities ready for a slight increase in physical maladies of visitors and perhaps a slightly larger population. The impact of predatory gambling on society, however, goes far beyond in-casino heart attacks, The report ignores socio-economic impacts of pathological and problem gambling such as lowered productivity at work, administration of the justice system, “abused dollars” and social services. Outside those quantifiable costs are other costs too abstract to have a dollar value. Most are related  to problem and pathological gamblers, who yield about half the revenue of the average casino. These costs include family breakup, psychological hurt, and suicide. Casino promoters are not obliged to tell you about what they call “emotional” costs when they talk money but they should tell you that predatory gambling tolls society in estimatable dollars much more than the trifle Hudson Valley Casino concedes.

The application is mute on how many new problem gamblers and addicted gamblers a casino in Newburgh might generate, It gives not even an order of magnitude figure for the annual cost to society associated with each new problem or pathological gambler.  The only costs acknowledged due to gambling are for treatment and prevention. It is assumed that all foreseeable increases in these costs due to the casino would be covered by present Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services programs plus an annual 1.5 million dollars to be collected by the state for treatment and prevention from 3000 gambling positions @$500/yr. The report writer must think this money would go back to Orange County dollar for dollar. Not so; it would be divvied up across the state.

The applicant is wrong to pretend that 1.5 million dollars would begin to cover the socio-economic costs attendant on a new casino in Newburgh.  Here is one estimate of the quantifiable socio-economic costs, neither best-case nor worst-case:

Within a fifty mile radius of the proposed site live at least 2.5 million adults. At least 1.14% (28,500) of them are pathological gamblers now [ Shaffer et al meta-analysis ref 1 ]. If the allure of a Newburgh casino were to notch up the 1.14% by just 15%, that’s 4275 new pathological gamblers. If the quantifiable socioeconomic cost per year of one pathological gambler is 12,790 dollars ( Grinols ref 2 ) the total cost for new pathological gamblers only (not counting problem gamblers) would be $54.7 million/year.

My attack on this proposal does not mean that I think there’s a proposal in Region 1 or anywhere in the state that has such a better analysis of societal health costs and benefits that it merits a license instead of Hudson Valley Casino.   A cost-benefit analysis that gave due regard to societal health would find that none of the sixteen proposals passes. The Upstate Gaming Act authorized up to four casinos in “upstate;” it did not mandate them. No proposed casino deserves a license.  Thank you.

The opinions expressed  are the speaker’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of any or all members of Coalition Against Gambling in New York .  Permission is granted to reproduce text or image in whole or part as long as the permalink above is cited.

Caesars at Woodbury: Problem Gambling ? No Problem

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Summary: This is a critique of Attachment IX.A.2.a_A2  in  section  07 – IX.A. Assessment of Local Support and Mitigation Local Impact  of the  application by Caesars Entertainment to the New York State Gaming Facilities Location Board.    Being an epidemiologist and physician familiar with problem gambling as a public health problem,  I found  Attachment IX.A.2.a_A2  extremely biased in downplaying,  to near zero.  the possible health impacts  of a new Woodbury Casino.   The report asserts  as follows:

  • no socio-economic costs of pathological gambling and problem gambling warrant $ consideration, as none can be quantified so that all parties are close to agreement.
  • making casinos more convenient hardly  increases the prevalence of pathological gambling and problem gambling in the surrounding population in the long run.
  • the only population within a 50 mile radius of Woodbury that is  at theoretical  risk of having even a temporary surge in prevalence of pathological gambling and problem gambling  is that of Orange, Dutchess and Putnam Counties.
  • efforts by Caesars elsewhere to address “problem gambling” have been highly successful and will minimize “problem gambling” in southern New York State.

The  report greatly understates the possibility of harm to residents of the region due to a casino in Woodbury to residents of the region.  This essay addresses the first three  points in the above order.  The fourth  I have discussed in an e-mail to the NYS Gaming Commission last April.

 

In reading the Caesars Entertainment Inc application for a Woodbury casino I focused as a physician versed in public health  on the 40- page report   Study of Addiction and Public Health Implications of a Proposed Casino and Resort in Woodbury New York by Bo J. Bernhard Ph.D., Khalil Philander Ph.D., and Brett Abarbanel Ph.D.

The authors are all experienced consultants for gambling-related  enterprises. Two are senior members of the International Gaming Institute (IGI) at University of Nevada at Las Vegas. This is a highly polished presentation by experts who know the field but hide large tracts of it from view.   It  dismisses or never mentions four crucial facets of the ecology of pathological gambling and problem gambling. The report basically concludes that

  • socio-economic costs of pathological gambling and problem gambling don’t warrant consideration, as none can be quantified so that all parties are close to agreement.
  • making casinos more convenient does not much increase the prevalence of pathological gambling and problem gambling in the surrounding population in the medium  run of 2 to 4 years.
  • the only population within a 50 mile radius of Woodbury that is now under-served by racinos or casinos (and hence at theoretical  risk of having even a temporary surge in prevalence of pathological gambling and problem gambling) is that of Orange, Dutchess and Putnam Counties.
  • efforts by Caesars elsewhere to address “problem gambling” have been highly successful and can be relied on to minimize “problem gambling” in southern NY

The report nowhere mentions a statistic often cited by opponents of predatory gambling but never addressed head-on by casino advocates and never refuted: 40-50% of revenue at the average casino comes from pathological and problem gamblers, who comprise perhaps 12-15% of its customers, maybe 4% of all adults. [ http://cagnyinf.org/wp/april-9-2014-central-stat-of-casino-revenues] For the casino lobby to refute the statistic (if it is refutable) they would have to acknowledge that they can spot pathological and problem gamblers among their “visitors” while those persons are still active customers. This means before the person has loudly threatened suicide within an employee’s hearing or left town suddenly or thrown an ugly scene on the “gaming floor” or been arraigned or jumped.

Casinos will not acknowledge they have any  ability to spot problem or pathological gambling signs and symptoms that are not florid and end-stage. Why not? To move in even gently on such persons would risk offending them so they would go elsewhere or sending them to premature recovery before they have been “played to extinction.” [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9C2BPZYLW_U ] .  To recognize the problem gamblers before they are end-stage yet not do anything for them  would reveal how insincere are the “preventive measures.” .

The casino cartel does not deny that its net revenues follow the Pareto principle: most come from a small proportion of gamblers. What casino promoters won’t say is what proportion on the average of that small proportion are pathological gamblers or problem gamblers. The promoters just do not want to know who among their customers is a problem gambler or pathological gambler until the gambler hits bottom or worse.   Promoters and detractors alike recognize that not everyone who loses a lot of money over time at casinos is a problem gambler. Anti-casino activists hold that most are; the American Gaming Association counters that most are affluent people having fun with their disposable income.

Assuming the central statistic is close to truth, casinos are not motivated to sincerely counter problem gambling and pathological gambling.  A successful effort to do so would lower their revenues by 40-50%.  Nor is government motivated; lower casino gross gaming revenues   would reduce  government’s share  by a like amount.

The report prepared for Caesars (in this no different from all the literature on problem gambling) also does not recognize that “unchanging prevalence” of problem and pathological gambling requires the formation of replacement problem gamblers and pathological gamblers to fill the shoes of those who have recovered, died, moved far away or are no longer free-living. What might appear a steady state is built on creating new problem gamblers. The more effective  the casino is at encouraging current problem gamblers and pathological gamblers into lasting recovery before they have fiscally and emotionally wiped out themselves and and ten people around them, the faster it must generate replacement problem and pathological gamblers to keep up its high profit margins.

I will now cover the first three bullet points above in more detail. The fourth bullet point I wrote about in the above-mentioned letter to the Gaming Commission.

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Whose Problem are Problem Gamblers ?

Central Statistic

Graphic by Dave Colavito, 2014 data from Grinols and Omorov 1996-97

On 24 April 2014  I sent to the Director for Policy,  Development and External Affairs of the NYS Gaming Commission the following  e-note with two attachments, one of which was   posted yesterday on the CAGNY web site below a copy of the April 24  cover e-note, repeated here.

Dear Sir,

Attached are two documents I earnestly hope the Chairman and all the Commissioners will read carefully and discuss with the  GFLB.  Both are about “problem gambling,” the subject of the April 9 forum convened by the Gaming Commission. Watching the videotape and reading the transcript (everyone should thank the GC for providing these so fast) I saw  that “problem gambling” was an elusive term.  The extreme importance to the casino economy of net losses from problem gamblers was nowhere mentioned except when the speaker from Caesars deflected  the issue.  Yet around the “central statistic of casino revenues,” on which I have written to the Commission, is the “central dilemma” of regulation: the better the regulation is at preventing problem gambling, the lower is the casinos’ profit margin.

Selected prevalence statistics were presented as if they are the be-all and the end-all of gambling behavior studies.  They are about all we have, but a poor stand-in for what we really want to know about time trends in social impacts, i.e.  incidence and duration.  Under the placid surface of what looks like stable prevalence,  much new damage continues; as problem gamblers recover or die, new ones must be recruited to take their places.

As I have offered before, I’m  [ready]  almost any time to meet with the Commissioners and staff to explain the critiques in more detail and to talk about “the central statistic.”

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely, etc.

Stephen Q. Shafer, MD, MA,  MPH Chairperson, Coalition Against Gambling in New York 917 453 7371 http://cagnyinf.org  [ Cover note ends here]

 

No surprise,  the Commission has not responded to these  unsolicited comments. Does that mean the Commissioners have all accepted the assurances (see below) of  the Executive from Caesars Entertainment that the organization does not make money from “problem gamblers” and does ” not want them in [their] venues?”  If yes, it is a monumental  mistake.  I cannot speak for Caesars Entertainment in particular, but it would  be unique  if it does not make money from what most people call problem gamblers To  wrongly  assume Ms Shatley’s artful  discounting  of problem gamblers fits all casinos  would be an easy stretch  to make,  even if Caesars is unique. It would be worse yet if the attitude “casinos don’t want problem gamblers” were communicated to the Gaming Facilities Location Board members.  The GFLB is charged to consider plans by applicants to address problem gambling. The Board must understand how important problem gamblers are to the casino exchange.

Below is the text of the second attachment  that was sent to the Gaming Commission  on April 24, slightly revised.  The text of the other attachment sent the same day  was posted yesterday on this web site along with the cover e-note.

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The Central Statistic of Casino Revenues

Central Statistic

The central statistic of  casino revenues gives the lie to assurances from casino promoters that they do not want, or need,   problem gamblers. In one line:

52 % of revenue at the average casino is the net losses of  “problem gamblers.”

The term “Problem gamblers”  as used above combines gamblers in two categories: what is now called “disordered gambling” (formerly called “pathological” or “addicted” or level 3); and those in what was formerly called “problem” or “subclinical pathological” or level 2).  There is no universally accepted name and unambiguous term for the combination, which was in the past termed by some “disordered gambling,”   by others “problem gambling.”  The combination  category is about  4 % of the adult population,   perhaps  10 to 15 %  of  casino users.  We recommend that “problem gambling” be kept as the portmanteau term for the combination.  We recommend that  persons whose lives are adversely affected by gambling but who do not meet  criteria for “disordered gambling” be called “at risk for disordered gambling.”

Nearly all the quantifiable socio-economic costs of legalized gambling,  more than $60 billion/year nationally ,2  move through this same 4 %  of adults who are “disordered”   or “at-risk-for-disordered” gamblers.   A program that reduced to zero the number of active disordered and at-risk gamblers and totally prevented formation of new ones would almost wipe away  the huge quantifiable socio-economic costs of legalized gambling, estimated at  $266 per year/capita adult  in the USA. 3

But,  that program would also reduce casino revenues by close on half.  Government’s share, based on taxing the total net losses of gamblers (“gross gaming revenue”), would drop by the same proportion.

The casino exchange exists only for profits.  Do you really think it would support in good faith a prevention and treatment program designed to cut its profit margin by half ?

Do you honestly think the state government would support in good faith a program whose complete success would mean a 50%  decrease in a budgeted revenue line?

Or, do you think the casino exchange and  government agencies would rather cooperate  to showcase  worthy  aims for “regulation” and “prevention  and treatment”  that might just fall short in practice ?

References

1.  Grinols, Earl L. and Omorow  J.D.  16  J. Law and Commerce 1996-97  p. 59 .  Details in appendix below.

2. The figure $60 billion comes from making low-side cost of living adjustments to convert 2003 dollars into those of 2012 and adjusting for population growth between 2003 and 2012.  The 2003 figures are on page 176-177 of Gambling in America by Earl L. Grinols (Cambridge University Press, 2004). This works out to about one-third the annual cost of illicit drug use.    https://www.drugfree.org/join-together/drugs/new-report-estimates-illicit-drug-use-costs-u-s-economy-more-than-193-billion-annually

3. http://cagnyinf.org/wp/gambling-economics-statistical-summary-by-prof-earl-grinols

Appendix:  What Proportion of Gamblers’ Net Losses to Casinos come from Problem Gamblers?  Brief  Review of  Five  Major Reports from the Last Twenty Years

Estimates of what proportion of casino gross gaming revenues derive from the approximately 4% of adults whose lives are adversely affected to varying degrees (“problem gamblers”) by gambling are not many.  The one most directly applicable to the average American casino is that of Grinols and Omorov.  Observations of  types of gambling other than physical casinos accord with Grinols and  Omorov in that  gamblers’ total net losses to a casino (also termed “gross gaming revenues”) have, like many other human activities, a Pareto distribution: the bulk of the output or the uptake   (e.g. consumption, volunteer work done) comes from a relative minority of the participants.

The casino exchange is wont to say that all such problem gambler statistics are wrong, that the biggest chunk of casino revenue is from wealthy “whales”  who  are not problem gamblers, just persons with a lot of discretionary spending money. That is all the rebuttal the exchange offers.

While “whales”  do exist, they do not frequent most casinos or racinos.  Casinos certainly have the information technology to respond with data to the above charges by opponents of predatory gambling, yet they do not.  To weigh in on this they would have to  acknowledge that they can identify all or most of the problem gamblers in their clientele.  This would open them to well-deserved criticism that they are not acting responsibly towards those persons.

Below, we review five documents related to the question of  % gambling revenues from problem gamblers, one each from United States, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Great Britain and Western Europe.

The next section, to the asterisks, is a continuous quote from page 59 of the article by E.L. Grinols and J.D. Omorov “Development or Dreamfield Delusions?: Assessing Casino Gambling’s Costs and Benefits.”  J. Law and Commerce vol. 16 (1996-1997) pp. 49-87.  The table has been re-formatted and footnotes removed.

“Table 1 provides a hypothetical profile of gambling revenues by type of gambler.

                           [table below]

Applying the terms “pathological” and “problem gambling” as

used by the psychology profession to the two groups losing the most to

casinos, we call those who have not gambled in a casino in the past year

“nonbettors,” and divide the remaining gamblers into “heavy” and

“light” bettor categories. Based on prevalence studies, we assume that

1.38 percent of the adults will be pathological gamblers  who lose an

average of $4,01328 and that problem gamblers lose one-seventh the

amount that pathological gamblers lose. This implies that 52 percent of

casino revenues come from the 4.11 percent of the population who are

pathological and problem gamblers.  In this respect, casino gambling resembles

alcohol of which 6.7 percent of the population consumes 50 percent

of all alcohol consumed. Allowing for the average adult to lose as

much as $200 annually to casinos in some areas would still mean that

more than 35 percent of casino revenues in those areas come from problem

and pathological gamblers.

 

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 using 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 existing taxes on gambling gross revenues that are already

high in many cases. Further, if treatment were successful in

preventing gambling by problem and pathological gamblers, it would significantly

reduce industry revenues. It is probably safe to conclude that

not everyone in the casino industry would willingly forego 35 percent or

more of their revenues.”  [emphasis added]

TABLE 1: Representative Distribution of Gambling Revenues by Type of Gambler

% of pop. designation annual loss annual loss cumul % of
per bettor $ per 100 adults $ casino gross
1.38 pathol. gambler 4013 5538 39
2.73 problem gambler 669 1826 52
5.89 heavy bettor 317 1866 65
50 light bettor 99 4970 100
40 non-bettor 0 0 0
100 total 14200 100

 

***********************************************************************

Figures in the table were computed by the authors  using information from  a 1992 report prepared by Deloitte  & Touche for the  City of  Chicago Gaming Commission:  ECONOMIC AND OTHER IMPACTS OF A PROPOSED GAMING. ENTERTAINMENT AND HOTEL FACILITY 137, 146, 147, 162

The Alberta study ( Williams et al)   two direct quotes

“ In 2008/2009 it is estimated that problem gamblers in Alberta account for 50% of all reported gambling expenditures, with that ratio being even higher for VLTs, slot machine and casino table games .”  Williams Robert J,  Belanger Yale, and Harris Jennifer N.  Gaming in Alberta  Final Report to the Alberta Gaming Research Institute 2011 p. 259

 

“A much more serious concern is that 75% of reported gambling expenditure comes from roughly 6% of the population. The most distinguishing feature of these individuals is the fact that 40.6% of them are problem gamblers. Overall, problem gamblers in 2008/2009 in Alberta appear to account for roughly 50% of all reported expenditure, a percentage that is even higher than previous Canadian estimates of between 23% – 36% (Williams & Wood, 2004; 2007). It is ethically problematic for governments and charity organizations to be drawing such a significant percentage of their revenue from a vulnerable segment of the population.”  [emphasis added]  Williams et al   op cit   Final Report to the Alberta Gaming Research Institute 2011 page 280

 

The Bwin study (Planzer, Gray and Howard Shaffer)

A study in Europe on internet gambling with casino type “games” authorized by the internet gaming company Bwin was reported on in an October 2013 article in the Wall Street Journal by Mark Maremont and Alexandra Berzon.   The investigators were Planzer,  Gray  and Howard Shaffer; their report is not yet published.  IThe WSJ article says that  3% of the 4222 customers tracked provided “half  the casino’s take.”  The  WSJ article did not say what proportion of the adult population the 3%  of the 4222 customers were.  Certainly it would be less than 3%, since only a minority of the adults do internet gambling.   The  article did not identify how many of the 3% were problem gamblers.  Safe guess it’s at least half.

Nova Scotia Video Lottery  (report by Focal Research)

A 470 page report on the Nova Scotia Lottery done by Focal Research [Schellink and Schrans principal authors] concluded that

“in 1997/98  5.7% of adults in Nova Scotia (approximately 38,750 adults) did most of the video lottery activity in the province and are contributing approximately $113,236,800, or approximately 96%, of the annual net revenue for video lottery gambling in the province.  Therefore, it can be assumed that VL   play behaviour differs significantly among those who are Casual VL Players and those who play on a regular, continuous basis and that these distinctions have significant implications, in terms of profiling VL gambling within the population at large.”

The Nova Scotia report (pages 3-42, 3-43) found that 55% of VL revenues were from “problem VL players,” who were about one-sixth  of the 5.75% of adults classed as “regular players” [defined as once a month or more].  Problem VL players thus comprised about .92% of adults.

The authors observe “It is obvious that success in helping Problem Players to reduce their expenditures will have a substantial impact on the total revenue Nova Scotia derives from VL play. If  Problem Players’ expenditure was similar to that noted for Frequent Players, there would be a reduction in total revenues from VL gambling of approximately 35% to 40%.

Using  the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey, James Orford (Univ Birmingham), Heather Wardle and Mark Griffiths derived a lower figure for % of gamblers’ net losses coming from problem gamblers: 23% at FOBTs [Fixed Odds Betting Terminals].  We note, however, that the prevalence of current problem gambling in this survey (0.9% by DSM –IV and 0.7% by PGSI criteria)  was much lower than the 2-4% figures from elsewhere.  This difference is more likely to be due to methods than to Britons’ being less vulnerable.  In this study, then,  23% of the FOBT revenues come from less than 1% of the adult population.  This ratio is even more skewed than what what Grinols and Omorov reported for “the average casino” (52% from 4%) .

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer,  Stephen Q. Shafer  MD, MPH, MA retired Clinical Professor of Neurology at Harlem Hospital Center, Columbia University , New York City.  He is Chairperson of Coalition Against Gambling in New York, a non-profit registered in Buffalo  http://cagnyinf.org    Permission is hereby given to quote in whole or in part as long as the permalink is cited and all citations to other work are correctly conveyed.

The graphic is by Dave Colavito.  He places no restrictions on use  but please attribute work to him.