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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Casinos Take Steps to Fight Addiction

2 August 2005

In the nearly two years since major casinos nationwide adopted a policy implementing a number of problem gambling safeguards, two industry giants say they are in some cases going above and beyond responsible gambling rules adopted by certain states.

For years, Nevada casinos have been required by law to educate employees about how gambling can be potentially addictive. Casinos also are required to post helpline numbers in certain areas such as casino cages telling customers where they can get help for a gambling problem.

In 2003 the American Gaming Association implemented a "Code of Conduct" requiring casinos to in some cases surpass those and other states' requirements.

The code requires member casinos to post a helpline number near ATM machines and offer information on the odds of winning various casino games. AGA members also may choose to bar certain customers from gambling at their casinos without prior approval from patrons.

MGM Mirage already had adopted as a corporate policy many of the elements of the code prior to its creation by the AGA, executives say.

Those include displaying problem gambling messages in employee areas like dining halls and questioning casino employees on problem gambling before their shifts. Properties formerly owned by Mandalay Resort Group, purchased by MGM Mirage in May, have begun implementing MGM Mirage's extensive problem gambling outreach effort such as pre-shift discussions with workers, MGM Mirage spokesman Gordon Absher said.

In the past year, Harrah's Entertainment Inc. has implemented two extensive programs that aren't necessarily required of AGA companies.

The company has upgraded its computer database so that if a customer is barred from one particular Harrah's casino the individual is also excluded from all other Harrah's-owned casinos nationwide.

Harrah's customers can now request that they be placed on an "exclusion list" that prevents them from receiving casino comps and other promotions as well as casino credit. In some states, gamblers exclude themselves through a state agency that compiles and maintains such a list.

In addition, Harrah's has recently trained workers to be able to identify potential problem gamblers and refer them for help.

"If a situation warrants, we have a number of people at our properties trained to intervene with our customers and ask them if they need some assistance," Harrah's Chief Operating Officer Tim Wilmott said Monday. People are only approached if they have "gone past the point of normal behavior," he said.

Problem gambling programs in place at Harrah's haven't yet been rolled out at all of the properties owned by Caesars Entertainment Inc., which was acquired by Harrah's in June.

The practice of initiating conversations with customers is similar to a program adopted by Caesars but was in place before Harrah's purchased the company, Wilmott said.

The practice remains controversial and has not been adopted by other major companies.

In an interview Monday, MGM Mirage Chairman Terry Lanni said identifying people as problem gamblers can be demeaning and can also expose casinos to lawsuits.

"We didn't think our people were sufficiently trained" to identify compulsive gamblers, he said. It would be "extremely difficult" to train the company's more than 70,000 workers in something that is better handled by professionals, he said.