MGM unveils problem-gambling prevention efforts inspired by requirements at Springfield casino
MGM Resorts International, the company behind the $950 million casino taking shape in the South End, is rolling out problem-gambling prevention programs nationally in response to Massachusetts regulations.
The state's Gaming Commission requires that casino operators here implement GameSense, a program developed by the British Columbia Lottery Corp. in Canada in 2009. On Wednesday, MGM Resorts executives announced at a meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, that the company will implement GameSense at its resorts in Las Vegas and elsewhere around the country, not just in Springfield where it is required.
Alan Feldman, MGM Resorts International executive vice president of global industry affairs, said he learned of GameSense after the Massachusetts Gaming Commission told him the state was adopting the program. It is also used by the Connecticut Lottery and by other Canadian provinces.
"Hats off to them (at the Massachusetts Gaming Commission) for choosing it," he said.
The state commission hailed MGM's announcement.
"Given the proven success of BCLC's GameSense program, the Commission takes pride in our decision to pursue this innovative strategy and we are thrilled that MGM Resorts International is committing to this program in all its U.S. properties," Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Steve Crosby said. "MGM won a casino license in Massachusetts because we recognized that MGM is one of the true leaders in casino development and community responsibility. This decision continues to re-enforce that leadership."
The officials in British Columbia didn't just come up with a marketing plan, Feldman said.
"This was a very thoughtful program that was created with a lot of points of view and a lot of disparate points of view," he said.
GameSense changes the conversation from one about problem gambling to a broader discussion of what responsible gaming -- and irresponsible gaming -- entails.
"We'd like to have that conversation with as many as possible," Feldman said. "And establish a better connection with as many of our customers as we can."
That way if a MGM customer is in distress, the ensuing help is not the first message about gambling responsibly that the customer has heard from MGM.
British Columbia Lottery Corp. President and CEO Jim Lightbody said GameSense grew out of conversations at his agency in the mid 2000s. It runs not only the lottery, but also casino gaming and sports betting in the southeastern Canadian province. It's what's called in Canada a Crown corporation, one owned by the province but structured like a private company.
"How do we make a much more significant improvement to how we offer responsible gambling?" Lightbody said. "We take our response to problem gaming very seriously."
"What we really had was a brand image and communication challenge," Lightbody said. "What it was designed to do was really change the conversation and reduce a lot of the stigma associated with admitting you might have a problem with gambling."
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission requires that casinos in the state set aside areas where customers can learn the odds of the games they are playing, as well as meet with a GameSense counselor or just take a break.
Signs in the casino direct visitors to the GameSense area of the resort.
Online, GameSenseMa provides information on the true odds of gambling games, how gambling works, a self-evaluation quiz and budgeting tools for the public to use. MGM is licensing the program from authorities in British Columbia.
Lightbody said GameSense also has an employee training aspect that MGM will also implement here and elsewhere and has been adopted by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission.
Called appropriate response training, GameSense tells dealers, pit bosses and food servers what to do if they see a gambler in distress. Signs include pounding a fist on a roulette table, yelling out or simply spending more and more time at the slot machines.
"Our employees like that training," Lightbody said. "Because those conversations can be difficult to have."
Besides the Springfield property now under construction, MGM Resorts has locations in Las Vegas; in two Mississippi cities; Atlantic City, New Jersey; Detroit; Illinois; the new National Harbor casino in Maryland; and overseas in China.
As part of the agreement, MGM promised to give $1 million over five years for a research partnership with British Columbia Lottery Corp. and the University of Nevada Las Vegas' International Gaming Institute. UNLV scientists working with counterparts at the University of British Columbia's Centre for Gambling Research will work on ways to enhance GameSense and to provide gambling responsibly, according to a news release.
Feldman said the research will keep GameSense program up to date with the latest research.
Occupying 14.5 acres of Springfield's South End, the MGM Springfield casino complex is expected to open in fall 2018. MGM has promised to create no fewer than 3,000 jobs at the casino, including at least 2,200 full-time jobs.
Implementation of GameSense across MGM will begin later this year.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission requires a number of measures to stop problem gamblers, including allowing people to ban themselves from the gaming floor, restricted access to those under 18, prohibition of smoking and limited access to alcohol.
Problem gambling is already present here. A 2015 University of Massachusetts survey of nearly 10,000 adult Bay State residents found that 1.7 percent of them had exhibited problem gambling behavior in the last year.
That same study also found that an additional 7.5 percent of the population are at-risk gamblers. That means an estimated 67,500 to 109,100 people are suffering right now with a gambling problem and an additional 353,400 and 426,200 Massachusetts residents are considered at-risk gamblers.
The Massachusetts Expanded Gaming Act also provides for a $15 million to $20 million fund drawn from casino operators dedicated to fighting problem gambling. When fully endowed, this will be one-third of all the money spent on problem gambling in the entire country.