Group Wants to be Player in Gaming Decisions

By Liz Benston, Las Vegas Sun
9 December 2003

LAS VEGAS -- Since its founding in 1996, the National Center for Responsible Gaming has raised more than $10 million for research on gambling addiction, worked with clinicians to develop a standard for treatment and replaced gambling myths with more than a dozen peer-reviewed research projects.

But the nonprofit -- formed by casino companies to take on the thorny issue of compulsive gambling -- hasn't yet established a working relationship with the regulators and policymakers who continue to make lasting decisions about legalizing gambling and rules governing casinos.

"That's a source of frustration because the field is so young," Christine Reilly, executive director of the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders at Harvard Medical School, said at a conference on gambling addiction in Las Vegas Monday.

The NCRG, the only nationwide group dedicated to funding peer-reviewed research on problem gambling, awarded a contract to Harvard Medical School to create the gambling research institute, which awards research grants to educational institutions worldwide. Anti-gambling groups have expressed concern about the alliance, though the NCRG maintains it has no influence over the research and has adopted the same research grant process recommended by the National Institutes of Health, the nation's foremost medical research center.

Over the next year, the NCRG hopes to boost its profile among state lawmakers by establishing a set of "best practices" for establishing regulations covering gambling addiction. It also aims to become more aggressive about networking with legislators and other state officials, NCRG Chairman Dennis Eckart said.

Ongoing NCRG-funded studies could have practical applications for states analyzing their gambling regulations, said Eckart, president and chief executive of the Greater Cleveland chamber of commerce and a former six-term congressman from Ohio.

Recent research in states such as New Mexico and Iowa is analyzing whether gambling restrictions -- such as changing the graphics on a slot machine, for example -- slows demand or has any affect on rates of gambling addiction, for example, he said.

The NCRG also recently awarded a grant to fund the first analysis of Missouri's self-exclusion program for problem gamblers. The Missouri program is one of the country's oldest and could help other states that are looking at similar voluntary casino exclusion programs for gamblers, Reilly said.

NCRG affiliates may also testify before state legislatures considering gambling measures, though "it would be a huge mistake to become advocates" of gambling or gambling regulations, Eckart added.

Besides getting more involved with regulators, the NCRG also is seeking practical applications of new gambling research for casinos.

The NCRG's board is discussing the possibility of introducing a nationwide certification program for training casino employees in understanding gambling addiction.

Even with more gambling studies available from top-notch institutions, regulations often are passed as a reaction to negative "media hype" about casinos rather than based on sound research, gambling researchers at the conference said.

At a conference of the International Society of Gambling Regulators last year, an Australian regulator claimed, "I spend all of my time creating regulations out of newspaper stories," Harvard Medical School gambling addiction researcher Richard LaBrie said.

Regulators should take into account several potential models for analyzing gambling problems, including the influence of genetics on gambling addiction, psychological problems related to impulse control and even social factors such as the exposure to gambling.

"Regulatory activities are not random ... they are model-driven," LaBrie said. "The problem is regulators often are not telling us what model they are using."

A study last year of gambling regulations across the 11 states with non-Indian casinos revealed significant differences in gambling addiction policy, LaBrie said.

Few states, Nevada included, offer measures aimed at heading off gambling problems before customers even enter a casino, he said.

Such measures include restrictions on advertising and messages about compulsive gambling outside the casino environment.

More states are focused on governing gambling activities or the consequences of gambling rather than preventing gambling problems from the outset, he said. Gambling rules include signs in casinos, employee training, credit restrictions and loss limits. Self-exclusion programs, helplines and treatment programs are offered in some states to regulate what happens after gambling occurs.

In most cases, the final list of regulations isn't as comprehensive or well-analyzed as it should be, LaBrie said.

States should consider adding regulations from all three categories and should not consider any particular rule in isolation, he said.

Some casino groups have faulted too-restrictive gambling rules for hampering gamblers' choices, saying addicts will adapt their gambling behavior to overcome the restrictions.

Not enough evidence exists yet to prove or disprove that theory, however, LaBrie said.

Gambling addiction is a public health problem that must be examined thoroughly and without prejudice, Eckart said.

"Closeting this as a moral or social issue confines it to the ballot box," he said. "This is deeper than that."

Related Links
American Online Gambling
National Center for Responsible Gaming 4th Annual Conference on Gambling and Addiction

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