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Gaming Guru

Richard N. Velotta

'Harm-Minimization' Slots Studied by Industry

10 December 2003

LAS VEGAS -- If you went on a "hot streak" while playing your favorite slot machine, how would you feel if the machine suddenly shut down and gave you an on-screen message warning of the dangers of excessive gambling?

If a slot machine was preprogrammed to limit your playing time to one hour, would you tend to bet higher amounts to catch up if you were behind as the deadline drew near?

Would you tend to bet larger or smaller amounts if you had a "near miss" with a machine that could have given you a big payoff?

Those and other questions are being considered by gambling addiction experts as the industry ponders whether gaming devices should be programmed to minimize excessive gambling behavior. The topic was addressed Monday by a panel at the National Center for Responsible Gaming's fourth annual conference on gambling and addiction.

While the experts discussed those questions in the session on harm minimization and gaming machine design, possibly the biggest question for Nevadans is: Would Nevada regulators consider requiring local slot machines to have such features?

Scott Scherer, a member of the state Gaming Control Board, said Tuesday that he expects his board and the Nevada Gaming Commission to consider harm minimization proposals, but he added that evidence has to be extremely compelling for regulators to consider rules to require anything.

Scherer said Control Board staff attended the conference, which ended Tuesday, and learned more about the concept. He said regulators in other countries have been pressured by politicians to consider requiring slot machines to be altered.

"But I think we would rather do something we know works and isn't just a feel-good measure," Scherer said.

He said he expects Control Board staff to bring a report on harm minimization to a future board meeting.

Slot machines already attract a potential player's attention by screaming out across the casino floor. Regulators overseas were the first to consider forcing manufacturers of those machines to include features that would curtail or discourage play as a means of reducing excessive gambling.

Regulators in Nova Scotia, Europe and Australia have taken the lead in requiring certain features to be incorporated on slot machines to keep players from going overboard.

Harold Wynne, president of Wynne Resources Ltd., a research consultant for the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre, said casinos are incorporating environmental and machine-based interventions to get a moderation message out to players.

Wynne said environmental restrictions include problem gambling signage, employee problem gambling training and restrictions on automatic teller machines limiting the amount of cash that can be withdrawn.

But it's the machine-based interventions that are more controversial because their messages are contrary to a casino's goal to make money and satisfy shareholders.

Machine-based interventions include on-screen cash counters calculating a total of how much money is in play, on-screen clocks that remind players how much time they have spent gambling, pop-up time reminders with alarm settings, problem gambling banner ads that give anti-addiction messages and access to virtual problem gambling rooms where issues about addictive play are discussed.

Experts also are looking at more aggressive machine-based interventions: automatic time-outs for players after a big win or a big loss, smart cards that slow down the speed of play, disabling lights and sound effects and turning off the machine after a specific time period or when a money limit is reached.

Panel moderator Tom Baker, chairman of Reno-based International Game Technology Inc., the world's largest slot machine manufacturer, said his company supports research to determine whether harm minimization is effective in reducing problem gambling.

He said IGT has contributed a total of $1.6 million to research issues involving responsible gambling. The company also has a director of responsible gaming, Connie Jones, who is based in IGT's Bozeman, Mont., center.