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Gambling Addicts Are Easy Prey For Massachusetts Casinos + Slots

Monday, July 22, 2013

 

It may be a myth that those who oppose casino resorts and slots parlors are just “anti-gambling,” as some gambling proponents like to say. Fact is, 90 percent of a gambling joint’s revenue is made from 10 percent of its patrons.

As Science Daily reported on April 8, “Fascinating new studies into brain activity and behavioral responses have highlighted the overlap between pathological gambling and drug addiction. The research, which presented at the British Neuroscience Association’s Festival of Neuroscience, “has implications for both the treatment and prevention of problem gambling.”

The very next month, American psychiatrists began officially referring to this sort of addiction as “gambling” instead “behavioral.” The historic shift makes gambling the first mental disorder listed in the fifth and latest edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. DSM-5, as it’s known for short, is the textbook for psychiatry that’s widely used by doctors, courts, and insurance companies.

The addictive nature of gambling is precisely why casino and slots operators prey on gamblers with addictive behaviors–marketing directly to them. For these easy marks, it’s not a game when it’s an addiction.

Bay State shrinks must be salivating

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is New England’s biggest pusher of legalized gambling. As such, it is now in the market for four betting joints–promoting the ploy as a way to create good jobs at good wages and expand the tax base.

The two-year-old Expanded Gaming Act authorizes the state Gaming Commission to license three regional casinos and one statewide slots parlor. In Central Massachusetts, two gaming developers are betting on the state’s only slots license and one other developer is rolling the dice for one of the state’s three casino licenses.

The licensing fee for each casino will be a minimum of $85 million and requires a capital investment, to include a hotel facility, of at least $500 million. The Commonwealth will receive 25 percent of gross gaming revenues. The slots facility, which can hold up to 1,250 slot machines, has a $25-million license fee, and a minimum capital investment of $125 million.  The slots facility will be taxed at 40 percent of its gross gaming revenue.

On July 15, representatives of Rush Street Gaming, parent of Mass Gaming and Entertainment, unveiled plans for a $200-million slots parlor in Millbury. Under the Expanded Gaming Act, the Board of Selectmen and Rush/MG&E have until July 26 to negotiate and sign a host-site agreement. If such a pact is inked, voters in that Blackstone Valley town would go to the polls sometime in September to cast ballots in a referendum election.

Three days later, Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella announced the signing of a host-site agreement with The Cordish Cos., parent of PPE Casino Resorts MA, to locate a $125-million in that North County city. PPE has requested September 24 as the date for a referendum election. This evening, the City Council will vote on whether to approve that date.

Three other slots developers are vying to secure the state’s sole license. The proposals–all, for Eastern Mass.–are for Plainville, Raynham and Tewksbury. Six other proposals have been floated for a total of three regional casinos, which, unlike slots parlors, contain other games such as blackjack and roulette. Two are for Eastern Mass. (Boston and Everett), one, for Central Mass. (Milford) and three, for Western Mass. (Palmer, Springfield and West Springfield).

The Everett and Springfield casino developers are leading the pack, with both a host-site agreement signed and a referendum vote held. On June 22, Everett voters, by a margin of 6 to 1, approved a $1.2-billion casino proposal by Wynn Resorts Holdings. On July 17, Springfield voters, by a margin of 58 to 42 percent, gave thumbs-up to an $850-million downtown plan by MGM Grand.

Once a referendum question is approved by local voters, the casino or slots developer will have until October 4 to submit a Phase 2 plan to the Gaming Commission for approval. The Commission, which expects to release Phase 2 regulations sometime this summer, will make its one slots selection by next December and the first of its three casino choices by no later than next April.

Bay State shrinks must be salivating over the addict jackpot they are about to hit.

Fooled into thinking that losing is winning

Our state’s Expanding Gaming Act seeks to address gambling addiction. The law, according to the Gaming Commission, provides “a myriad of mitigation efforts, which includes public health and addiction services and community and cultural mitigation.”

Gambling addiction accounts for an estimated $7 billion a year in added health-care and criminal-justice costs, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG). Gaming-industry critics charge that casinos and slots use deceptive practices to attract gamblers, depend on addiction for profits, and should, therefore, be held liable for resulting social costs.

Gambling addicts can get fooled into thinking that losing is winning, according to award-winning science writer Steve Kotler. He co-authored with innovation pioneer Peter Diamandis the best-selling Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think.

Scientists long believed that dopamine was pure pleasure, Kotler reports in a blog titled High As Hell: The Evolution of Our Gambling Addiction, and they thought of it as the reward portion of the body’s need/reward system. “You wanted something fundamental to survival—like a next meal or a sexual partner—and when you got that thing, the brain released a little dopamine,” Kotler explains, “so the next time you were faced with a similar situation (like being hungry) you would remember that feeding yourself felt damn good.”

But lately, Kotler continues, we are learning otherwise–thanks to the work of people like Greg Berns, an Emory University associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “We now know that dopamine is not released after you’ve gotten the thing you so desired,” Kotler writes, “but rather when you take the risk to do the thing that gets you what you desire.”

Dopamine helps us to associate risk with reward, which, as Kotler writes, is “a gambler’s bread and butter. ” So much so, he reports, that, in 2005, Mayo Clinic psychiatrist M. Leann Dodd found that 11 of her Parkinson-disease patients developed pathological gambling addictions. The cause, she discovered, was the anti-tremor medicine pramipexole. Since dopamine also helps the body to coordinate motor function, the drug works by blocking the reuptake of dopamine. “Unfortunately, Kotler writers, “that extra chemistry boost was all it took to push these Parkinson’s patients over that big-bet edge.”

Dopamine further works against gamers, Kotler adds, because of “the gambler’s fallacy.” This, he explains, is “the idea that, odds being odds, a long losing streak can only mean the next hand has to be a winner. But odds don’t work that way. Every spin of the roulette wheel is independent of every other, but the brain’s pattern-recognition system is built around short-term gains not long-term prediction.”

“The brain is good at understanding sudden environmental changes,” Berns, of Emory University, tells Kotler, “but bad at lingering, slow developments—which is why people and animals always overestimate a long-shot.” This, Berns adds, is why we buy lottery tickets even though the odds against winning are often roughly 100 million to one.

Liability lawyers eye suing Big Gaming

As we saw with Big Tobacco, class-action lawsuits can be a wonderful experiment in behavior modification. This legal approach is now being eyed for Big Gaming.

While the Commonwealth is taking a mitigation approach to gambling addiction, a group of 10 lawyers and academics with experience in prior liability cases is considering a litigation angle to the problem. The group met in April in Indianapolis to discuss whether to file a class-action suit charging that online gaming promotes gambling addiction. The legal strategy would be modeled on the class-action suits that forced cigarette companies to shell out $206 billion over 25 years to pay for medical costs for smoking-related illnesses as well as to fund anti-smoking campaigns.

In response, David Stewart, general counsel of the American Gaming Association, told Reuters at the time, "Nobody's made Nordstrom reimburse somebody who is a shopaholic.” Because gambling is gambling, he added, “when you gamble, you lose."

As the Association asserts on its website, “Responsible gaming is an issue of prime importance to the gaming industry, and the AGA, its member companies and their employees are committed to making responsible gaming a priority.” By funding scientific, peer-reviewed research on gambling disorders, following the guidelines of the AGA Code of Conduct for Responsible Gaming and educating the public about the odds of games and making responsible decisions about when and how to gamble, “the gaming industry demonstrates that responsible gaming is a fundamental part of how it does business.

To a certain degree, NCPG agrees with AGA. “The casino or lottery provides the opportunity for the person to gamble,” the Council states. “It does not, in and of itself, create the problem any more than a liquor store would create an alcoholic.”

Still, NCPG maintains that this does not let the gaming industry off the hook. “Everyone who provides gambling opportunities has a responsibility to develop policies and programs to address underage and problem gambling issues,” the Council notes.

In fact, the vast majority of Americans are able to gamble responsibly, according to both NCPG and AGA. As the Association observes, “a small percentage of people–approximately 1 percent of the adult population–cannot” and the gaming industry “recognizes how serious this is and is taking concrete steps to address it.” 

The 1-percent figure represents the two million U.S. adults whom the NCPG reports “are estimated to meet criteria for pathological gambling in a given year.” However, the Council adds that “another four to six million (2 to 3 percent) would be considered problem gamblers; that is, they do not meet the full diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling, but meet one of more of the criteria and are experiencing problems due to their gambling behavior.”

As part of the gaming industry’s commitment to responsible gaming, AGA reports that members of the commercial casino industry work with a wide variety of stakeholders–problem-gambling researchers, treatment providers, state problem-gambling councils and government and community leaders. The purpose of this collaboration, the Association states, is “to make sure that those people who cannot gamble responsibly get the help they need and those who can understand the importance of gambling responsibly.”

All of this may be true, and would be fine if the trade group for Big Gaming had stopped there. But AGA goes on to assert boldly, “The industry doesn’t want people who don’t gamble responsibly to play at its casinos, period.”

If you believe that, we’ve got a London Bridge on the Vegas strip to sell you.

Steven Jones-D'Agostino is chief pilot of Best Rate of Climb: Marketing, Public Relations, Social Media and Radio Production.

 

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