How meaningful is it to you to have received a recent ‘Responsible Gaming Ambassador’ award in Spain?
I have been very fortunate to receive awards over the years, but this one was surprisingly emotional! I realized, as I stood on that beautiful stage at the Teatro Real in the heart of Madrid, that Spain and its people have given me so many gifts over the course of my life, culminating in this one. I arrived in Spain for the first time in 1996, fresh out of college, and I did not speak Spanish. I soon learned that Spain was a culture beyond compare, and that its language, its social intelligence (and relatedly: its food culture!), and its profound, everyday commitment to justice were inspiring. I found friends in Spain, I found family in Spain, and it changed my life. I doubt I would have become a university professor without this international experience, as it provided me with so many useful lenses that, later as a sociologist, I would put to good use in analyzing issues like responsible gaming. Without Spain, I do not become the person I am today, and standing onstage at that black-tie affair, receiving such a massive accolade, well, it was one of those moments you will remember forever. I also want to thank my friend Mariela Huenchumilla, of SunDreams in Chile. She inspired my work in Spanish and RG, and this award reflects her dedication as well.
Recently, The San Manuel Entertainment Authority (SMEA), owned by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, announced collaboration with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas International Gaming Institute, to work together on the creation of an advanced responsible gambling programme. Can you talk about the objectives and developments of that programme?
One of the things that excites me most about this collaboration is that it brings together two award-winning “dream teams” in pursuit of a new objective: bringing the science of RG to the table, in an everyday, meaningful way that leverages UNLV International Gaming Institute (IGI)’s vast experience (we have over 100 years of experience on our team on this very issue) and SMEA’s award-winning cultural and community programming to generate real-world, on-the-floor impacts via direct conversations with patrons (and via other touch points throughout the facility). In addition, with the evolution of sports wagering and mobile wagering, we now have an opportunity to blend these worlds in a ground-breaking fashion through technology, and our new Black Fire Innovation campus at UNLV provides the ideal testing facility to realize that vision. I can’t wait to unveil our new program, based on hundreds of hours of interviews, surveys, and qualitative research. That blends the uniqueness of this culture, the opportunities of technology, and the importance of everyday-life, in-person touch points.
You also recently partnered with Entain in launching a Center of Excellence at the IGI focused on RG. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Our friends at Entain have also taken up residence at Black Fire, and as a leading technology company that happens to work closely with gaming authorities in several continents, our new partnership will lead to innovations that we have long dreamed of in the RG space. This is a moment when we are seeing a bit of a “perfect storm” in RG, with sports betting (and major advertising campaigns associated with sports betting), mobile betting, cashless wagering, and a newfound eagerness to address mental health challenges. We realized that it was time once again to enact the “IGI model” of creating centers of excellence populated by “dream teamers” to address major concerns in our field. With leaders like Jennifer Shatley, who launched the first programs in the industry at Caesars; Alan Feldman, whose nuanced understanding has been so important in helping address this issue worldwide; Jan Jones Blackhurst, former Mayor of Las Vegas, whose government-focused expertise is unparalleled in gaming; Becky Harris, the ground-breaking gaming regulator and innovator, and Dr. Brett Abarbanel, one of the world’s top and most cutting-edge researchers, we are poised to once again “dream team this thing”, that is bring a cognitively diverse and expert UNLV team to tackle the big issues of the day.
The advancement of online gambling and sports betting regulation in different jurisdictions of the United States is bringing with it an increase in advertising investment. Sometimes, this gambling promotion advertising affects vulnerable populations, putting people at risk. What must be done so that the gaming industry in the U.S. can execute marketing and advertising campaigns, but be aware of complying with certain parameters so that these promotions are socially responsible?
I’m so glad you asked! We recently issued a report on this very topic. In this report, we make several recommendations:
a) Especially during this “new” period of sports wagering legalization and implementation, sports gambling operators must ensure that advertising does not target vulnerable populations, particularly youth. To do so, we recommend an approach be taken with government providing funding for prevention, education, treatment, regulatory, and research programs in support of a more holistic “safety net.” Of course, the industry has a vital role to play in educating its customers, its employees, and its communities about responsible gambling, in constantly evaluating its own practices to make sure they are aligned with best research-based practices, and in dedicating resources to help those experiencing problems connect with those who can help them.
b) The media also has a vital role to play, particularly in today’s digitized era. If a story cites an illegal gambling site, the story should say so explicitly. Furthermore, the public needs to be made aware that offshore sites pay no taxes, that the jobs created are largely (if not entirely) offshore, and that responsible gambling programs for these companies are not overseen by any U.S. regulatory body. While we are encouraged by certain media voices and their focus on responsible gambling, the media simply has to raise their level of awareness and sensitivity to the issues that we have mentioned here alongside gambling companies, teams, and leagues. One helpful step in the right direction: training, educational programming, and even scientific forums for sports broadcasters on problem and responsible gambling, to increase awareness and sensitivity to the issue at the outset. This is mandated for other important social issues in the workplace, and the same approach should be taken with problem gambling and illegal gambling’s costs. In addition, groups like Conscious Gaming are seeking to apply some of the industry’s strongest technological tools to help educate the public about illegal sites, providing a ready reference and resource for journalists.
c) Social media platforms provide gambling operators and sports teams with a powerful vehicle to communicate with their customers and fans. Restrictions pertaining to sports wagering messaging should be put in place with certain social media accounts, especially platforms that are particularly popular among under-age groups, such as teens, like Instagram, Tik Tok, and Snapchat.
d) On a broader educational level, we call for a proactive cross-disciplinary summit of thoughtful and impactful leaders, to discuss the intersection of sports gambling and advertising and its resulting impacts on athletes, teams, leagues, and the public. This should be as comprehensive a gathering as possible, including the active participation of league and team officials, current and former athletes, media companies, gambling industry representatives, academics and researchers, problem gambling experts, public policy experts, regulators, and politicians, among other interested parties.
e) In addition to protecting their brands and their games’ integrity, universities also should protect coaches’ and student-athletes’ mental wellness. While the NCAA does provide mental health support and substance abuse prevention resources, a survey of Division 1 schools found that approximately only 20% of the schools that offer sports wagering education include information about gambling disorders. This is disturbing during a historical moment when gambling disorders are listed alongside substance abuse in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. At a minimum, the NCAA and its members need to mandate responsible gambling education as well as educational programming on the nature of sports wagering, the aforementioned conflicts that can exist (for instance, with affiliate marketers, whom athletes may just see as “normal businesses”), and the potentially devastating impacts of gambling disorders.
f) Finally, the industry should ensure that its messaging is responsible, both in terms of content and location. For example, we endorse the Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering developed by the American Gaming Association, in an effort to set an industry standard in the U.S. for the marketing of sports wagering. Given the broad membership of the AGA, the Code’s scope and reach are potentially quite substantial.