Inside Gaming Column: Group, Foes Duel Over Problem Gambling - Monday 6th of February 2006

The American Gaming Association recently released a white paper documenting the casino industry's decade-long record on promoting responsible gaming and problem gaming research, education and training.

The document supports arguments by readers who complained about a column which reported gaming executives welcomed the nomination of U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court, in part because of a ruling in a so-called problem gambling case.

Surely it is true, as Kevin Mullally, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission said, that the casino industry stands alone in recent U.S. history for identifying its product's addictiveness and developing programs to address the problem.

By comparison, the tobacco, alcohol and even automobile industries had to be bashed brutally in the Congress or the courts to address such issues.

The white paper reported that the association's programs standardized responsible gaming practices, and provided direction and heft to the industry's outreach.

The white paper also credits the association with advancing scientific inquiry into disordered gambling through its creation of the National Center for Responsible Gaming.

The white paper said both the association and the center are committed to working with employees and customers to increase responsible gaming.

A successful approach to treating gambling disorders lies in the industry working with public health officials, policymakers, clinicians and researchers to develop effective public policies and industry programs, the white paper said.

Industry critics have their doubts.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor Bill Thompson, who specializes in gaming studies, said comparisons of gaming with other industries miss the point.

He suggested that if the industry were really interested in excluding gamblers at risk, it could encourage states to license players, just as they license automobile drivers.

And Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, said until government holds casinos responsible, as it did with tobacco, alcohol and automobiles, the vast bulk of Americans at risk will not really be protected.

Although he said it may be impractical to require licensing of players, gaming companies should be able to identify who is at risk from their databases and act responsibly to protect them.

"Even if only 1 percent of players are at risk, that means hundreds of thousands have serious problems," he said. "Until we see numbers like that on lists of excluded players, we will know there is a problem to be dealt with."

Gaming Wire Editor Rod Smith can be reached by e-mail at rsmith@reviewjournal. com or by phone at 477-3893.

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