Slots and Problem Gambling Prevention

SCHENECTADY HAS A SLOTS GAMBLING PROBLEM

Problem gambling” means gambling behaviors that result in serious negative consequences to the gambler, and his or her family and friends, employer, or community. It can affect people in any age, racial, or economic group, but youth (kids; adolescents and college students), and senior citizens are thought to be particularly at-risk.

MGM Resorts “GameSense” Page

The Problem Gambling Awareness Month theme for March 2019 is “Awareness Plus Action.” This post continues our campaign to make Schenectady Aware of its growing Slots Gambling Problem and to suggest what action is needed, and by whom (with a compilation below of useful resources).

This website’s posting on March 11, 2019 repeats the cautionary message that the increase in gaming revenue at the Schenectady Rivers Casino in its 2nd Year of operation was totally generated from slots, with Slots play up 14.7%, but Table Games and Poker play both showing a reduction from Rivers’ first year of operation. The trend continues in the weeks since the Casino’s 2nd Anniversary: Revenue numbers in February through mid-March 2019 show Slots up 12% and Table Games down over 2.3% from the same weeks in 2018. [See our posting “Slotsification on the Mohawk“, August 13, 2018, for an introduction to the topic, and the coining of the word Slotsification.]

As a community, we should be concerned that only slots, the most addictive form of casino gambling, is increasing at Rivers Casino. Bean counters and economic development cheerleaders looking at the ripple effects of the Casino might also worry that Rivers Casino, despite its Marina & Amphitheater and the Landing Hotel, may not be attracting a significant number of medium-to-high-rollers, with their extra tourist dollars.

 Increased revenues from Slots undoubtedly means an increase in the risk of Problem Gambling and gambling addiction in our community, with all of the resultant damage to the gamblers, their families and friends, employers, and our entire society. (See our March 2, 2016 posting for more on the negative effects of problem gambling; and see “Foss: Increase in casino revenue comes with social costs” (Sunday Gazette, Aug. 5, 2018); and “Foss: More problem gamblers seeking treatment (Gazette, Jan. 13, 2018).

This added hazard for Schenectady is especially serious because slots players are likely to be predominately local residents, and from more vulnerable groups such as older and poorer patrons.  In assessing just how damaging the slotsification trend might be, It would be useful to know the demographics of the increase in slots play, and to ascertain whether it corresponds with more patrons playing slots or the same number or fewer players spending more time on the slot machines. Unlike last year, when Rivers Casino announced in the first week of February 2018 the figures for the number of patrons in 2017, the number of patrons at Rivers in 2018 has not yet been announced as of the last week of March.

AddictionByDesign-Schüll-Cover A good explanation of how/why slots are so addictive can be found in the New York Times article Slot Machines Are Designed to Addict” (October 10, 2013). It was written by Natasha Dow Schüll, and anthropologist and the author of Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas” (Princeton University Press, 2013). Her book’s message is described in the article “Did you know these 7 surprises about slots” (Psychology Today, Nov. 4, 2012), by social psychologist Susan K. Perry, PhD, who notes that:

Companies don’t seek to create addicts, they say, but they do admit to designing machines that compel consumers to gamble longer, faster, and more. Addiction is the result.

Among the “seven surprises” about slots that Dr. Perry lists, are (emphases added):

  • Machines with buttons and credits, instead of pull handles and coins, allow hundreds of games, rather than a few games, to be played in a minute.
  • Addiction can happen quickly with video gambling devices, in a year rather than three or more with other forms of gambling.
  • Modern slot machines are designed precisely to do what they do: take your money by putting you into a glassy-eyed trance so you won’t walk away while you have a single dollar or credit left.
  • Coincidence? It may be merely a coincidence that this is happening after Rivers Casino operated for a year in Schenectady, but “Studies by Brown University psychiatrist Robert Breen have found that individuals who regularly play slots become addicted three to four times faster (in one year, versus three and a half years) than those who play cards or bet on sports.”  From Slot Machines Are Designed to Addict” (New York Times, October 10, 2013, by Natasha Dow Schüll). 

 AWARENESS & ACTION? 

 With the awareness that slots play is growing in Schenectady and is likely to increase the incidence of problem gambling and gambling addiction in our community, what action can we take to minimize or at least reduce the negative effects? While I applaud increased State funding for the treatment of those suffering from gambling addiction, it seems obvious that any good faith and effective effort to deal with Problem Gambling must focus far more on Prevention, not merely Treatment. Prevention requires active education about gambling (from the odds of winning, to risks of addiction, and the signs of trouble in an individual, to the differences between safe and risky gambling behavior) and intentional cultivation of a community attitude that encourages Safe Gambling Practices and discourages Risky Gambling Behavior. We must stop treating our Casino as somehow glamorous and suggesting that patrons are performing a civic duty by helping to make the Casino successful.

In the four years since Rush Street Gaming was selected to operate the Capital Region’s commercial casino in Schenectady, its actions at Rivers Casino and the activities and programs of our State and local governmental entities (or their absence), make it clear:

We cannot look to either the Casino nor Government to provide programs that will effectively arm the public with information and advice on making casino gambling safer and avoiding high-risk gambling. Their actions to date focus almost totally on persons who already show the signs of a gambling addiction problem. Groups and individuals throughout our Community must act to protect ourselves.

WHY NOT RELY ON THE CASINO’s PROMISES? The answer seems too obvious to belabor, but the words and actions of Rivers Casino and its owners seem to confirm our skepticism. Rush Street Gaming declared in its Application to the NYS Racing Commission for a Schenectady casino license that “the existence of gaming at Rivers Casino is not expected to lead to an increase in prevalence rates in the local area,” due to funding for treatment programs, and the prior existence of slots in Saratoga and casinos in Atlantic City and Connecticut.  With that assertion, Rush Street denied that increased proximity and access to casino-style gambling will increase the prevalence of problem gambling in our community. [For a contrary view based on studies, see Why Casinos Matter, by the Council on Casinos of the Institute for American Values, (at 18-19), stating that the prevalence of problem gambling doubles within a ten-mile radius of a casino.]

At a symposium on problem gambling held at Schenectady County Community College in March 2017, the Rush Street representative was excited about their efforts to promote responsible gambling, but those efforts apparently revolve around helping the staff identify underage persons, problem gamblers and drinkers, and policing the state’s mandated self-exclusion program, and merely track the requirements imposed by the NYS Gaming Commission. The photo at the head of this paragraph shows a power-point image by Rivers Casino at the 2017 symposium. It says they want their patrons to be there “to simply have fun”, and declares that “We do not want people who cannot gamble responsibly to play at our casino.” Yet, we could find nothing to support that sentiment on the floor of the Casino, nor at their website or Facebook Page, beyond the obligatory caption “Must be 21+. Gambling Problem? Call 877-8-HOPENY or text HOPENY (467369)”.

MGM Resorts Facebook PGAM post

Indeed, as of today, March 27th, I have found no mention of Problem Gambling Awareness Month at Rivers Casino itself nor on its Facebook page and web site.

In contrast, the MGM Resorts Facebook Page has a posting about Problem Gambling Awareness Month 2019, “Learn about GameSense and Responsible Gambling this March“, with a video introducing its GameSense program (March 4, 2019). [see image to the left] You can find more about GameSense and the MGM Resorts efforts below.

The MGM GameSense program appears to be the first of its kind to be presented by a commercial casino group. Can we expect Rivers Casino to adopt a similar approach to problem gambling prevention? Our Casino has been consistently handled with kid gloves and favored status by City and County government and our business leaders. With no pressure coming from local leadership, it seems unlikely that Rivers Casino will act against its financial interests and make any significant effort at actually preventing problem gambling. As stated in Why Casinos Matter (emphases added):

image by Jeff Boyer/Times Union

Casinos depend on problem gamblers for their revenue base.  Problem gamblers account for 40 to 60 percent of slot machine revenues, according to studies conducted over the past decade or so. This evidence contradicts claims by gambling lobbyists that their industry wants to attract only those customers who play casually “for fun.” Indeed, if casinos had to rely on such casual customers, they would not long survive. A Canadian study found that casual players comprised 75 percent of players but contributed only 4 percent of net gambling revenue. The casinos’ real money comes from problem gamblers.

In attempting to explain why SugarHouse, a Philadelphia Casino also owned by Rush Street Gaming, had allowed a person on its Self-Exclusion List to gamble for 72 hours at SugarHouse,

Rosemarie Cook, vice president for gaming at SugarHouse, responded that many customers return day after day. “So it’s not unusual in our casino to see somebody the next day and the day after that and the day after that,” she said. “It’s a local market.”  [See “Policing gamblers who can’t police themselves isn’t easy” (Philadelphia Inquirer, by Jennifer Lin, September 9, 2013)]

Ms. Cook is describing exactly the kind of casino patronage at her Rush Street Gaming casino that is most likely to nurture gambling addiction, while bringing in the largest payoff for the casino. There is no reason to believe that such day-after-day local patrons are not fueling the slotsification of Rivers Casino. And, no reason to believe Rivers Casino wants to change that Schenectady scenario.

COMPARE RIVERS CASINO’s APPROACH to PROBLEM GAMBLING (and Slots) WITH THAT of MGM RESORTS:

RIVERS CASINO at MOHAWK HARBOR:

  • On its FACEBOOK PAGENo mention of Problem Gambling Awareness Month, at least not from Feb. 23, 2019 through March 27, 2019.
  • At its main website? There is a very minimalist Responsible Gaming page.  It states: “Rush Street Gaming is committed to make responsible gaming a priority and takes this issue very seriously. While many are able to gamble responsibly, there is a small portion of the population who can develop a serious, sometimes uncontrollable gambling problem. This can affect persons of any age, income, gender or race at any time.

“To protect them and others affected by their behavior, Rivers Casino established a set of policies and guidelines which deal with issues such as underage gambling, problem gambling, responsible marketing, and improper use or abuse of alcohol.”

    • The Rivers Responsible Gaming page has no direct information on responsible or safe gambling practices. And, given the vagueness of the reference, the public may not realize that the linked “policies and guidelines” document is not merely for internal company use, but offers a list of Ten Warning Signs of problem/addictive gambling, with the advice: “If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, please call the following 24-hour confidential national hotlines and/or websites:” [with a few resources listed for those needing help]
    • Its Slots WebPage is entirely a promotion of their “slot player’s paradise”, with no mention of responsible gaming or information on how slots work.
  • On-site at the Casino: I gave myself a tour or Rivers Casino on March 13, and could find no signs or posters or brochures, etc., about Problem Gambling Month.

MGM RESORTS:

  • MGM Resorts Facebook Page has a posting about Problem Gambling Awareness Month 2019, with a video introducing its GameSense program: “Learn about GameSense and Responsible Gambling this March” (March 4, 2019). The accompanying text says, “To help our guests make informed decisions at the casino, we offer responsible gaming tools and resources through our GameSense program.” GameSense is the first program of its kind, in partnership with the National Council of Problem Gambling, and promotes a “positive and safe gaming experience”. The goal: to “support and encourage each other to help ensure everyone has a good time while gambling.” The video reminds casino players: “It is important to set a budget, set a time limit, and no one should gamble more than they can afford to lose.
  • On its main MGM Resorts website, you can find its GameSense Guide to Slots, in addition to a helpful Responsible Gaming page.
  •  At the top of the MGM Slots WebPage is a link to “Tips on How to Play, and Win, at Video Slot Machines“. Up front it tells you, “Video slots work completely at random, nothing is predetermined, there are no patterns in payouts and the reel spins freely. . . Sure, everyone has a strategy for finding the one loose slot that will pay out more than the others, but in reality, it’s all up to chance.” The 8 Tips incorporate advice on setting a budget, limiting time, not chasing losses [that is, continue to play to try to win back losses], taking breaks, etc. Tip #8 is a reminder to “Have Fun”, with the advice, “ If you’ve run out of luck for one day, just move on and come back another day to try again. Make it enjoyable and entertaining!”, and includes a link to its responsible gaming page.
  • Inside MGM Resorts casinos: GameSense signs, reading materials, and advisors.

. . Below: GameSense Tips. Six common-sense ways to practice low-risk gambling to keep gambling fun (click on image for a larger version) . . 

WHAT ABOUT GOVERNMENT EFFORTS? When government entities and politicians bring a casino into an urban setting, they have a major obligation to help prevent problem and addictive gambling, for the sake of the entire community. Do New York State and Schenectady County and City have a strong incentive to combat the Rivers Casino Slotsification? We doubt it, despite Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul stating in May 2018:

“With this annual commitment in state funding, we are working to ensure a balance between new gaming options and an increase in education about addiction. We don’t only want to treat individuals struggling with addiction, but prevent people from becoming addicted and educate New Yorkers about the issue across the State.”

[Lt. Gov. Hochul’s remarks refer to added funding for Problem Gambling Awareness and Education that was announced simultaneously by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS):Click here for our coverage of the OASAS Announcement]

More realistically, the monograph “Poverty and Casino Gambling in Buffalo” (Center for the Public Good, January 19, 2011) succinctly states the reality and context [quoting Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission]:

“any trend away from slot machines, which are the most lucrative form of casino gambling, would hurt the state’s revenues from casinos.

Our City Hall and County Legislature are banking on major tax relief that is based on the size of Casino revenues. Thus, for reasons very similar to those of the Casino, we have not been able to count on local government to seriously recognize the imminent growth of Schenectady’s problem gambling problem and to combat it with a preventive approach. A minor example: almost every agenda for our City Council Meetings lists Resolutions and Proclamations recognizing all sorts of groups and issues, but it has never proclaimed March (or any other month) as Problem Gambling Awareness Month.

Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy never demanded a host community or damage mitigation agreement from Rush Street Gaming, when considering whether to approve their Application to the Casino Location Board. As a result, the Mayor and his Administration, along with Metroplex and County Government, never did or commissioned any independent research or investigation that could be used to rebut the glib claims of Rush Street and Galesi Group that a casino would have no significant added costs or negative impact on the City, or area. The research and warnings of a group like Stop the Schenectady Casino were simply ignored, as was the example given by other host cities. Instead, City Hall insisted there would be no negative impact from a Schenectady Casino. (See our posting on The Mayor and HCAs.)

Therefore, it is not a surprise that neither the City nor County of Schenectady has played any active role to help combat Problem Gambling, nor that State-funded efforts have not taken a more holistic and preventative approach. As welcome as current state-funded, public-oriented problem gambling awareness programs may be, they are they are far too focused on people already feeling the damaging effects of problem gambling in their lives. E.g., Self-exclusion programs, Hot Lines, in-patient beds, counseling services. [See image to the right.]

Thus, a media and billboard program using the funding announced by OASAS in May 2018 uses the slogan “You’re not Alone”. That sentiment clearly is aimed at persons already struggling with the negative effects of problem gambling, not at casual players.

Similarly, the NYS Gaming Commission announced a promising new program in its Press Release of March 4, 2019, captioned “NYS Gaming Commission Marks National Problem Gambling Awareness Month with First-of-its-Kind Public-Private Collaboration“. The effort includes a new 15-second video PSA announcement and 30-second radio PSA announcement, that are “Slated to run at no cost on commercial TV, radio, and social media,” plus a widespread postering campaign, and custom lottery-related PGAM messaging.

But, the new program’s initial efforts are disappointing, in that they continue the focus on people already struggling with gambling addiction issues. Thus, here are the crossword-style core image and caption used in the PSA and posters, etc.:

 . .

 Education-Prevention Trumps Treatment. Our hope had been that community education and prevention activities might be in operation prior to the Casino’s opening, in order to help inoculate the population of Schenectady against the anticipated tsunami of publicity for the Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor, with its resulting Casino Fever. As expected, in addition to the Casino’s own advertising and promotions, publicity for the Casino has included government and media cheerleading, as casino “gaming” is promoted as a normal, glamorous, and even civic-spirited activity.

Our goal has not been to urge the general public to avoid or boycott the Casino, but instead to help create a healthy, informed attitude toward casino gambling that places it into the low-risk category of casual entertainment and recreation, rather than a high-risk habit leading down the path of problem, disordered, or pathological gambling.  Unfortunately, over the past few years, our local government leaders have not stepped up to put Problem Gambling Awareness programs into place. While a large percentage of our population has proven resistant to Casino Fever, or suffered only a brief case of the malady, it appears that Rivers Casino has attracted and kept enough slots-oriented patrons to make the growth of problem gambling disorders in our local populace a major concern.  This makes “inoculation” or prophylactic measures even more important to safeguard the as yet un-infected, among current and future slots players, and other casino users.

 The requested governmental programs never materialized, and perhaps more discouraging, there was no noticeable pressure or even subtle outcry by the non-profit sector or relevant actors in the for-profit healthcare industry, for such problem gambling efforts. Instead, major social events have been held with gambling themes at Rivers Casino, and two leading members of the healthcare industry in Schenectady, Ellis Hospital and MVP, actually sponsored Table Game Lessons at Rivers Casino [note the sponsors at the bottom of the ad to the left, and see our related posting]

Question: WHAT ACTIONS ARE REALISTICALLY AVAILABLE TO PREVENT, NOT JUST TREAT, PROBLEM GAMBLING?  Answer: WE NEED A COMMITMENT FROM ALL SEGMENTS OF OUR COMMUNITY TO UTILIZE OR CREATE RESOURCES THAT FOSTER LOW-RISK, SAFE GAMBLING PRACTICES.

  1. OUR PRIVATE SECTOR, both for-profit (especially healthcare, and the helping and counseling professions), and not-for-profit (e.g., civic groups, senior centers, schools at every level, faith communities, and neighborhood associations, perhaps aided by the Schenectady Foundation), must step up to “inoculate” against Casino Fever and Slots Addiction, with helpful information and practical advice, to nurture healthy attitudes about gambling, especially casino gambling, using a variety of means and media aimed at all segments of the community.
  2. SAFER/LOW-RISK gambling practices must be encouraged, and HIGH-RISK practices discouraged. Examples are given below.
  3. Casino Gambling should be like any other form of leisure activity and entertainment:
    1. pursued for fun and relaxation, an occasional outing, where you play for fun, not to get rich;
    2. using your leisure budget, and aware what you are likely to spend at each visit (as at the theater, a sports event, or a restaurant), with bugeted losses the price of the night’s entertainment, and any wins a nice bonus. 
  4. Ripple Effect: The lessons and thus the benefits of a Safe Gambling Campaign will apply to all other forms of gambling in our community, such as Lottery and Sports Betting.

GOOD NEWS: A Treasure Trove/Jackpot of relevant, interesting, and sometimes even fun, materials, in many media (posters, brochures, videos, billboards, tv and radio and internet PSAs), and aimed at many audiences, already exists. It is easy to find online, and available for free download, often with free hardcopy versions, too.

The following are resources worth checking out, either to use them directly, modify them for local use, or as inspiration for some Schenectady Creativity.

PROBLEM GAMBLING CANADA

This thoughtful, well-constructed, nonjudgmental site has much to offer individuals, families, and communities dealing with problem gambling issues. See ProblemGambling.ca

An excellent example is this list of factors involved in

Low Risk and Harmful Gambling

Not all gambling is a problem. Gambling may be low risk, or it may be harmful.

Low-risk gambling means you:

    • Limit how much time and money you spend gambling
    • Accept your losses, and don’t try to win them back
    • Enjoy winning, but know it happened by chance
    • Balance gambling with other fun activities
    • Don’t gamble to earn money or pay debts
    • Don’t gamble when your judgment is impaired by alcohol or other drugs
    • Never borrow money or use personal investments or family savings to gamble
    • Don’t gamble to escape from your problems or feelings
    • Don’t hurt your job, health, finances, reputation or family through your gambling

Harmful gambling means you have started to:

    • Lie about your gambling or keep it a secret
    • Lose track of time and play for longer than you meant to
    • Feel depressed or angry after gambling
    • Spend more money than you planned, or more than you can afford
    • Ignore work and family responsibilities because of gambling
    • Borrow money or use household money to gamble
    • “Chase your losses” to try to win back your money
    • Believe that gambling will pay off in the end
    • See gambling as the most important thing in your life
    • Use gambling to cope with your problems or to avoid things
    • Have conflicts with family and friends over gambling
    • Ignore your physical and emotional health because of gambling.

ProblemGambling.org/ca has many online self-help tools.

Smart.Play is a website created by the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), a provincial Crown Corporation that conducts and manages province-wide lotteries, casinos, and slot facilities. As a Crown Corporation, it is fully owned by the Ontario Provincial Government. It presents information to fulfill its Pledge to Players:

  1. WE PLEDGE TO COMMUNICATE HOW GAMES WORK

    To be clear, straightforward and offer you the relevant facts.

  2. WE PLEDGE TO OFFER YOU KNOWLEDGE YOU CAN USE

    To guide you – as a new or experienced player – with advice and tools on how to set a game plan that helps you keep gambling as a positive entertainment option.

  3. WE PLEDGE TO KEEP IT FUN

    To show that smart, healthy play habits are engaging and worth your time.

  4. WE PLEDGE TO BE THERE WHEN YOU NEED US

    To listen, respond and offer assistance for getting help if gambling stops being fun.

Play.Smart has information on Table Games and Slots, with material on How to Play, Odds, Strategies, and Etiquette, for each game. Including a series of entertaining videos. Its SLOTS webpages have quite a bit of useful information, explaining how the machines work, what payback and pay-tables are, and more. Here’s advice to Start with a Game Plan (click on the image for a larger version):

If you want to make the point that slot results are totally random, try the cute-cat, 21-second video How Randomness Really Works

NY Council on Problem Gambling  

The New York Council on Problem Gambling website has a rich library of resources of all types for all kinds of people. They encourage you to review all of their downloadable Resources, and suggest contacting staffer Stelianos Canallatos, at SCanallatos@NYProblemGambling.org, “If you have any questions, or need hard copies of any resource.” (Mr. Canallatos has been very helpful to the proprietor of this website over the past few years.)

On its Media Resources page, NYCPG says:

NYCPG MEDIA

NYCPG has created several resource videos to support education, outreach and awareness raising efforts. Videos include PSAs and short films. Video vignettes focusing on sports betting, youth, aging adults and veterans are also available. Watch the videos below to find out more about how gambling impacts individuals, friends and family. Want to view all of our videos? Visit our YouTube page.

Empty Spaces” video

At NYCPG’s Know the Odds website, you will find access to quite a few videos and Public Service Announcements. They explain: “KnowTheOdds has created a variety of videos shown online and as PSAs throughout New York State. Watch the following videos to learn more about problem gambling, and share these videos to help educate family, friends and your community members about the risks associated with being addicted to gambling.” The videos are realistic and powerful, long enough to flesh out the problems of real people, but short enough to share in a group context.

The You(th) Decide website, is also brought to you by the NY Council of Problem Gambling, Inc.  “You(th) Decide NY is a resource for youth, parents and communities, interested in giving YOU(th) the power to DECIDE,” such as deciding about risky behavior such as underage gambling. Parents/Guardians, Youth, and Community Leaders interested in stopping underage gambling will find much to consider.

NYCPG is also a major player in publicizing and honoring Problem Gambling Awareness Month in New York State. [Click here for its Press Release for March 2019, with the topic of Problem Gambling in the Workplace.] “Have the Conversation” has been a recurring theme; in 2017, the goal was that

“every New Yorker have a problem gambling conversation with at least one person in March.”

That goal is still relevant today, and in every month.

The NYCPG website has much information on how to Have the Conversation. Below are thumbnails for Action Sheets aimed at (from L to R) Senior Caregivers, Youth, and Parents.

  . . .   . . . 

OASAS ProblemGambling Brochures

The NYS Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services has a substantial number of brochures to download, including Know the Signs of Addiction. Brochures with information for vulnerable groups are available in English and Spanish. Click on these links for the English version of:

Here’s a section of the OASAS brochure on Problem Gambling & Seniors (click on it to enlarge):

 SCREENING FOR GAMBLING PROBLEMS. Medical and other provider offices and interested organizations may wish to participate in a Screening Day for gambling problems. Gambling Disorder Screening Day was Tuesday, March 12, 2019, but you can hold it on any day. A Screening Toolkit is available at no cost, here, from the Cambridge Health Alliance of Harvard Medical School.

. . . Healthcare providers can also screen their patients . .

The Responsible Gambling Council (Toronto, Canada) is dedicated to the prevention of problem gambling, using knowledge to find solutions. It has very useful material about Safer Play.

The  RGC Safer Play Quick Guide succinctly differentiates high-risk and low-risk gambling:

Safer Gambling Tips

High-Risk vs. Low-Risk Gambling

People who gamble in a high-risk way lose the sense that it’s only a game. They start to see gambling as a way to make money. Or they think they have special luck or abilities. Often when they lose, they bet more and more to try to win back what’s been lost.

People who gamble in a low-risk way naturally follow the principles of safer gambling. They see gambling as a form of entertainment. For them, a small gambling loss is the cost of a night’s entertainment—just like the cost of a movie ticket or a restaurant bill.

The RGC site has links to several Safer Play brochures, in 16 languages. Below are links for the English versions.

There is much to gain spending time at the Responsible Gambling Council site. I’ve been checking it regularly to see its frequently-changing Main Page Photos, which each contain a safer play tip. For example:

 . . .

A similar series featuring Schenectady folk and scenes might an enjoyable and useful safer-gambling project.

  •  Although I’ve focused in this posting on what the Community can do outside the political process, some readers might want to consider a campaign to persuade our State and local governments to increase Education-focused efforts to prevent problem gambling, rather than wait to treat it. For example, Seneca County and casino developer Wilmot [del Lago’s owner] set out the structure for a Problem Gambling Prevention, Outreach and Education Program, to be undertaken by the County and the Casino jointly, that will seriously address the issues relating to problem gambling. Schenectady County could, perhaps, invest in Problem Gambling Prevention, to avoid significant Social Services expenses, and other costs in the future.

[Current] CONCLUSION: As individuals and as a community, including our political, business, and civic leaders, we need to recognize and fight Schenectady’s Slots Gambling Problem, as well as other forms of problem gambling. Slotsification will increase the social costs to individuals, families and the community from having this Casino in our midst. If the portion of Rivers Casino revenue from slots keeps growing, it will surely lead to the very situation casino opponents most feared: Significant growth in problem gambling and all its consequences, but with a disappointing boost in revenues for the City and County, far less than our “leaders” promised when selling the project and deciding to take the risk of inviting an urban casino to Schenectady.

Let’s all Have the Group Conversation, with members or leaders of at least one social, civic, educational, or religious group, to discuss how you/we can make Schenectady a Healthy-Low-Risk Gambling City and best avoid the problem gambling trap. You could, for instance, brainstorm on how to use existing materials, like those presented above, or to create Schenectady-specific brochures, signs, and even billboards.

Year Three Begins: slots still reign at Rivers Casino

. . .

February 8, 2019 was the 2nd Anniversary of Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor. As we’ve previously reported, all increased gambling revenue at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino during its second year of operation came from Slots/ETG play, which were up almost 15%, while table games and table poker had reduced revenue. Here’s the breakdown, using the Monthly Reports made by Rivers to the NYS Gaming Commission:

A comparison of the two Rivers Anniversary Months, February 2018 and February 2019, shows the same relationship as the revenue figures in its first and second years of operation: All added revenue is coming from slots:

AnnivMoCompare

We can see, then, that the worrisome trend continued into the first month of the 3rd Year of Operation for Rivers Casino, despite Anniversary Month efforts to promote Poker and Table Games [see, e.g., Casino LED screen at right].

Is Rivers Casino turning into that cursed form of urban “development,” a mediocre regional casino attracting predominantly local patrons who can least afford to gamble, and siphoning off entertainment dollars that were once spread across the local market for leisure activities — and, with no palatable solutions in sight?

No matter what you call this phenomenon — “slotsification”, “slotsploitation”, “Slotsnectady”, etc. — we should be concerned, because slots are the most addictive form of casino gambling. Slots also appeal more than other forms of casino gaming to many members of the most vulnerable groups of prospective gamblers, seniors and the elderly and low-income.

 . .

Just in time for the 2nd Anniversary of Rivers Casino operating at Mohawk Harbor, the State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued a 17-page Audit report the first week of February which concluded that the State has failed to assess the human toll of its gambling expansion and needs to better understand the problem, so that its limited resources can be best used to prevent and treat gambling addiction. The stated purpose of the report, “OASAS Problem Gambling Treatment Program (Report 2018-S-39, Feb. 2019), was “To determine whether the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) has sufficient treatment programs for problem gamblers.” See, a Gazette article (Feb. 7, 2019), and related column by Sara Foss. ; and a Times Union article and editorial. It seems clear, that we need to understand who is playing slots at Rivers Casino and how we can help assure that having a casino in our midst does not spread the infection of problem gambling in our community.

As we noted in our posting “slotsification on the Mohawk“:

 It may be merely a coincidence that this is happening after Rivers Casino operated for a year in Schenectady, but “Studies by a Brown University psychiatrist, Robert Breen, have found that individuals who regularly play slots become addicted three to four times faster (in one year, versus three and a half years) than those who play cards or bet on sports.”  From Slot Machines Are Designed to Addict” (New York Times, October 10, 2013, by Natasha Dow Schüll).

We also noted in that post:

Whatever the cause, Slotsification will increase the social costs to individuals, families and the community from having this Casino in our midst. If the portion of Rivers Casino revenue from slots keeps growing, it will surely lead to the very situation casino opponents most feared: Significant growth in problem gambling and all its consequences, but with a disappointing boost in revenues for the City and County, far less than our “leaders” promised when selling the project and deciding to take the risk of inviting an urban casino to Schenectady.

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month, and we will soon be posting a piece about Problem Gambling and Slots.

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doldrums along the Mohawk (and, an undertow, too)

The press has told us that revenues are up significantly the first half of 2018 compared to the same period last year (see our posting). So, I was somewhat surprised this afternoon looking at the Gross Gaming Revenue figures for the first three full weeks of July 2018: Despite a 17% increase in Slots/ETG GGR, the Total GGR was down 9.5% compared to the same period of 2017 ($9,475,893), while Table Game GGR fell a remarkable 53%. Click for the Rivers Casino Weekly Revenue Report. And, click to see a chart of the numbers for the first three weeks of July in 2017 and 2018.

RiversGGR-CompareJuly2018 full-month follow-up (August 4, 2018): Rivers Casino Gross Gaming Revenue numbers for the week ending July 30, 2018 were posted today, allowing us to tally the full comparison of the two Julys at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino. The numbers and totals can be seen on this chart. Here’s the summary:

The Gross Gaming Numbers at Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor for July 2018 were:

  • in Total, at $11,644,566, down 3.3% over July 2017
  • for Slots/ETG, at $8,574,114, up 19.4% over July 2017
  • for Poker Tables, at $454,123, up 9.5% over July 2017
  • for Table Games, at $2,616,325, down 41.1% over July 2017

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questiondudequestionmarkkeyRed Moreover, revenue so far in for the full month of July 2018 was down 3.3% over July 2017, despite Rivers Casino and Mohawk Harbor having achieved/installed virtually all of the “wait-until” features that we were told will stabilize and generate the projected revenue:

  • the opening of the 200-unit River House apartments in August 2017 at Mohawk Harbor
  • MHMarina-Amphi3Jul2018the availability for the summer boating season of Mohawk Harbor Marina, which was opened in November 2017.
  • opening of the Harbor Amphitheater, and presentation of free Harbor Jam concerts this summer at the Marina every Saturday night since June 23. And, note this follow-up (Aug. 2, 2018): In today’s Gazette article “Harbor Jam heats up in Schenectady: Free outdoor concert series is packing them in at Mohawk Harbor” (at 8 of the Ticket section, by Indiana Nash),  are told: “The series has drawn more people into the casino as well as to places like Druthers Brewery and Restaurant, which is located on Harborside Drive.” In the print edition, the sub-headline states “Fans flock to free series, helping casino, restaurants.”
  • another big crowd for a set of impressive Fourth of July Fireworks
  • MHDruthers30May2018 the much-publicized and anticipated opening of Druthers Brewing Co. at Mohawk Harbor on June 21
  • The Casino’s Landing Hotel being open the entire month of July (only a week last year)
  • The installation of a “CYCLE!” bike-share station at Mohawk Harbor
  • MohHarb30ftPylonthe erection of a giant (30′ by 18′) shopping-mall style pylon sign, with large and bright LCD screen, advertising the Casino and many amenities of Mohawk Harbor, at the intersection of Mohawk Harbor Way and Erie Blvd.

DiscoverSchenectadyLogo In addition, the new Schenectady County Tourism and Convention Bureau, has been active all year, with a budget over $400,000. The Tourism Bureau, with its Discover Schenectady website, puts a lot of stress on Schenectady’s Casino, giving it its own “Casinos” Category (and related webpage) on the Things To Do pull-down menu. The Casino’s Convention Center is also a focus of Bureau activity. It is funded with Schenectady County’s recently-raised room occupancy tax and other sources, including the state’s “I Love NY” program.

  • The Board of the Convention and Tourism Bureau, naturally, includes representatives of the Casino, and its business partners, and Mohawk Harbor. The vice president is Brooke Spraragen, director of project planning at The Galesi Group, the developers of Mohawk Harbor, and owner of the land under the Casino parcel.

redflag-circle Our July 16, 2018 posting noted that the increase in gambling revenue at Rivers for the 2nd Quarter of 2018 came totally from Slots and Electronic Table Games. We need to raise a red flag about just whose money is floating Rivers’ boat and helping to fill the tax coffers of the City and County of Schenectady. Many detractors of casinos, especially casinos in urban areas, fear that a worrisome percentage of slots dollars come from local problem gamblers, and the most vulnerable members of our society, not from traveling high-rollers or members of the comfortable middle class simply spending disposable leisure dollars. For example, the Report Why Casinos Matter states that:

Problem gamblers account for 40 to 60 percent of slot machine revenues, according to studies conducted over the past decade or so.

If such concerns are valid, cheerleaders celebrating increased revenues at our Casino might want to pause to ask about the potential social costs of choosing to base our financial policy on such regressive taxation. As MIT professor Natasha Dow Schüll, author of Addiction by Design, wrote in the New York Times (Oct. 10, 2013): 

Surely, civic leaders looking to close budget gaps can find more ethical alternatives than capitalizing on such traps.

Ms. Schüll also noted: “Studies by a Brown University psychiatrist, Robert Breen, have found that individuals who regularly play slots become addicted three to four times faster (in one year, versus three and a half years) than those who play cards or bet on sports.” That “has to do with the solitary, continuous, rapid wagering they enable. It is possible to complete a game every three to four seconds, with no delay between one game and the next. Some machine gamblers become so caught up in the rhythm of play that it dampens their awareness of space, time and monetary value.”

  • DownGraphPeople One number that jumped out at me from the Rivers Casino report for this past week, ending July 23, 2018, is the total GGR from Table Games: $225,435. That is by far the worst week yet for Table Games at Schenectady’s Rivers Casino. It is 46% lower than the prior worst Table Games week, and one-ninth the take of the best Table Games week at Rivers Casino ($2,039,456). With slots use rising and table games flat or declining, it is more and more difficult to accept the notion we get from Rush Street and our City Hall that people see Rivers Casino as a Destination Resort.
  • MGMSpringfield-renderMGMSpringfield-rend2  And, speaking of destination resorts and trouble ahead, see the Times Union “New competition for Capital Region gambling dollars(by David Lombard, July 26, 2018), an article about MGM Springfield, the almost-billion-dollar casino opening August 24th, just 100 miles away in Western Massachusetts, and already being advertised heavily on local tv as a true Las Vegas-style casino
redflag

Slots

 follow-up (Sunday, August 5, 2018): Sara Foss has again used her Gazette column to raise the issue of the social cost of casino revenues on gamblers and our community. See “Foss: Increase in casino revenue comes with social costs” (Sunday Gazette, Aug. 5, 2018). The column notes a 21.8 percent increase in slots revenue from February through June 2018 from the same time period during 2017.  Sara then states: “This is an impressive increase, but here’s the thing: Slots are highly addictive.”

Sara also quotes Phil Rainer, director of clinical services at The Center for Problem Gambling in Albany, saying “I find slots particularly deplorable.” Sara concludes by saying:

But I find it difficult to celebrate the boom times at Rivers’ slot machines.

For most people, playing the slots is harmless entertainment.

But for others, it’s a huge waste of time and money.

Local governments might reap the benefits of an increase in gaming revenue. But the social costs that go along with it shouldn’t be ignored.

Tellingly, Sara Foss says (emphasis added):

Now that [the Rivers Casino is] here, I want it to be a success. 

But it isn’t always clear to me what that means, because a casino isn’t a benign presence

Similarly, from my own point of view, it is difficult to come up with a formula that attempts to wish the Casino well in growing its gaming revenue (and keeping its employees employed), while somehow limiting the additional injury caused by problem gambling.  I wish we could figure out a way to improve gambling revenues with the least damage to the community.

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 11.21.31 AM The ability to attract more non-slot gamblers might be a benefit in several ways:
  1. If they are from out of town and stay overnight, they add sales tax revenues (sales, food & beverage, room occupancy)
  2. Also, if from out of town, they do not steal Leisure Dollars from other local businesses {the “Substitution Effect”); and,
  3. If Table Game players are in general less poor than Slots players, and not on fixed-incomes, they are less likely to wreck havoc on family budgets and tranquility, and to increase the need for more social services.

PGAMlogoEVERY One thing for sure: Our community (and perhaps especially our schools) needs Problem Gambling Education and Prevention Programs. New York State has promised a small amount of funding for such programs, but — unlike other NYS communities with casinos — neither the City nor County of Schenectady has done so. See, for example, our posting here.

disbelief-foreheadsmack

For more on the very predictable dilemma Schenectady faces trying to protect the community from the negative effects of Rivers Casino, and especially the growing reliance on slots dollars, see our post “Slotsification on the Mohawk” (July 13, 2018).

too many underage gamblers at Rush Street facilities?

underagegambler The Times Union (here) and the Gazette (here) are reporting that Rivers Casino at Mohawk Harbor’s operator, Rush Street Gaming, is appealing a penalty under consideration by a NYS Gaming Commission hearing examiner for violations of “regulations regarding permitting an underage patron on the gambling floor” and “permitting a person under 21 to make a wager at its facility.” Rivers wouldn’t discuss the dispute at this point, pointing to the pending hearings.

You may recall that Rush Street was fined $6000 last year for allowing a minor to gamble at its Schenectady Rivers Casino. See “Underage gambler caught — but only after he won $1,300 on slot machinesSchenectady casino fined for letting him on the gambling floor” (Albany Times Union, by Paul Nelson, March 24, 2017); “State fines Rivers Casino $6k for underage-gambler” (Schenectady Daily Gazette, by Steven Cook, March 23, 2017). 

In 2016, Rush Street touted its record for ensuring that only appropriate persons are allowed in its casinos:

“We have a strong history when it comes to responsible gaming at our other properties, including operating under statewide self-exclusion policies, and we look forward to continuing that same record of excellence in Schenectady.” (See “New York to step up effort to battle problem gambling“, by Haley Viccaro, Schenectady Gazette, March 2, 2016).

SugarHouseEntryway

Despite that assertion, a bit of Googling this evening uncovered numerous instances of Rush Street casino cousins in Pennsylvania being fined for violating underage gaming regulations. For example, on October 4th, 2017, the Pennsylvania Gaming Board fined Rush Street’s SugarHouse Casino $10,000 for failing to prevent underage access to the gaming floor. As we noted two years ago, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board had also announced, in a press release on May 23, 2012, that SugarHouse was fined $70,000 “for seven instances where underage individuals [ranging in age from 17 to 20] engaged in gaming.”

Similarly, the Rivers Pittsburgh casino has had multiple underage gaming fines. For example, in February 26, 2014, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board levied a fine of $15,000 against Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh for permitting an underage patron to gamble and consume alcohol at its property. The Pa. Board had also levied a $45,000 fine, in November of 2012, for four such incidents earlier that year.

  • Moreover, Schenectady’s Pennsylvania Cousin Casinos have both also had multiple fines for permitting persons on the self-exclusion list to gamble, and even for extending credit, and sending solicitations to such persons. E.g., here and there.  Should we expect the same here, too?

The fines are obviously meant to motivate better procedures and practices to prevent underage and self-exclusion-list patrons into the Casino. Perfection can’t be achieved, but a real commitment, starting at the top and embraced by all Rivers employees, will hopefully mean a lot fewer violations. “Expect Tough Monitoring” should be the message in our community — especially aimed at our area colleges and high schools.

Here is an excerpt from an earlier post at this website, discussing underage gambling:

propshopsrules Many people are concerned that the younger you are when introduced to casino gambling the more likely it is that you will develop a gambling problem. The mixture of alcohol and gambling is even more worrisome. See our posting “what will the casino mean for Union College students?“, which discusses such issues, and our particular concern over Rush Street Gaming’s practice of targeting younger gamblers. And see “Rush Street takes aim at adolescents” (Sept. 9, 2014).

Reallyatstake.png

 

 

Also, check out a program sponsored by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, called “What is Really At Stake“, to learn about the risks of underage gambling.

Consequences

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