Gambling Addiction…Who Is Responsible Anyway?

Problem gambling and addicted gamblers will always be an issue for the gaming industry.  It is an issue that catches headlines and undermines the industry credibility.  It is an issue that industry insiders should put more time and money into understanding and mitigating.  In a recent case in Nebraska a 79-year woman was convicted of embezzling $1.2 million dollars from the travel agency where she was the bookkeeper.*  The woman was a well-known customer at several casinos in Iowa; records at one casino showed she had lost $1.9 million in ten years, the most she ever lost in a single year was $250,000.  That is also the most she ever embezzled from her employer in a single year.  That may be a lot of money, but it isn’t the largest amount of ill begotten funds gambled away at a casino.  A couple of years ago a company in Los Angeles sued a Las Vegas casino over millions of dollars they say were stolen from them and spent on sports betting at the casino in Vegas.  Those cases and other like them, beg the question about responsibility: Who is responsible, the gambler or the casino?

It is not an easy question to answer.  In the 1980’s, Mike Adams was the general manager at Karl’s Silver Club in Sparks, Nevada.  He was young and ambitious with a seemingly bright future in the industry.  But he opted out of casino gaming over the question of responsibility.  Mike found from personal experience that he could not answer the question.  After his father died, Mike’s mother was lonely.  She started to go to the Silver Club every day. At first it was just to get out of house, have lunch with her son, and be around people.  But as time went on, she found she really liked playing the slot machines.  The machines and the employees became her entire world.  Sadly, before Mike discovered the problem, his mother had lost all of her savings and her home.

Mike was faced with a dilemma.  He could not blame the casino nor could he blame his lonely mother.  Who was responsible? For Mike it was a problem without a solution.  He decided on a new career, one without that kind of moral conflict and became a real estate salesman.  It was the only course of action Mike could see, but for most people in the industry that is not an option.  However, at one time or other, nearly every person involved in casino operations, and I include myself in that group, has struggled with this issue.  We have all had at least one customer who ended up in serious financial difficulties due to gambling.   Like Mike’s mother, it follows a typical pattern. At first, everything is rosy; the customer has a good time and makes new friends at the casino.  As times passes, they come more often and spend more money.  In retrospect, the managers and employees might have recognized the signs, but failed to do so.  Possibly if they had been better trained or less focused on growing the business it might have turned out differently for that customer.  It is very difficult to develop broad policies as each case is unique.

On the other side of the responsibility question, the customer too might have seen the signs and asked for help.  After all, each of us is responsible for his/her life.  If a person drinks and drives, the person, not the drink is judged in a court of law.  A person who spends more than he/she earns is held responsible by the bankruptcy court.  Gambling is not different from those examples.  The issue can and has been debated over and over and there is no simple answer.  But at some point in our business, the management and employees of each casino have to accept some responsibility and look more closely at some of the customers.  It may not be comfortable to look too closely into their private lives, but if we do not we lose a customer, a friend and at times even our own credibility.  It is incumbent on each individual casino, its management and employees to conduct the business of casino gambling responsibly.  And that means paying more attention to the people whose behavior might put them at risk and being prepared to take action. That is easier to say than do, but for the long-term health of the industry it is necessary.  And it is the responsible thing to do.

*An elderly woman pleaded no contest this week to four felony charges stemming from allegations that she stole more than $1.2 million from an Omaha travel agency — and blew it at the casinos…as bookkeeper at Travel Faire Inc., repeatedly wrote checks for cash and hid her theft as expenses…Authorities then requested and received information from a couple of Council Bluffs casinos. At one — Ameristar Casino — Carbullido had gambled and lost roughly $1.9 million since 2003. The most she lost in a single year at the casino was about $246,000 in 2012. Todd Cooper, Omaha World-Herald, 3-17-17



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