Having just returned from a few days in Las Vegas (a wonderful private conference!) I was really struck by the reality distortion field of modern gambling. For example, the casino I was in, New York New York had pamphlets rather hidden entitled “responsible gaming”, within which it says: “upon your request, we will cancel or reduce your credit line.” and “upon your request, we will remove your name, address and phone number from .. our casino mailing list.”
This means that these guys use what we industry types call an ‘opt out’ list. The kind of annoying thing that contributes to the 200+ spam messages a day that I get. A better strategy is always an opt-in list, and a casino is uniquely positioned to offer incentives for people to sign up: “join our list and we’ll immediately send you a $25 certificate good at your next visit!”
It’s also interesting that the pamphlet is printed in the most difficult-to-read colors imaginable: gold type on a black background. It’s like it’s designed to be incredibly hard to read. Hmm….
And meanwhile, the local industry rag, Gaming Today, has an interesting article about the arguments surrounding adding support for debit cards in slot machines. The idea is simple enough: why waste time getting cash when you can just suck the money directly out of your bank account, spin by spin? A scary prospect, particularly for folk who find gambling an addiction already.
But what really struck me in the article is that the argument isn’t whether to offer this or not – it’s coming – but whether to have any sort of limit of how much can be pulled out of an account over a given 24 hour period. Some are arguing that there should be no limit at all, that gamblers are responsible for their own finances and that’s tough luck. Others say that, and I want to quote this because it’s an amazing statement, “Nevada Gaming Control Board member Scott Scherer said he favors a $1000-per-day limit per card, which closely mirrors bank policies on ATM usage.”
Except, of course, that it doesn’t mirror ATM usage policies. ATMs have a cap of $300 last time I talked with my local bank. But $300/day isn’t enough to keep people happily chugging along, drinking the free drinks and pushing the ‘spin’ button on the slot machine, hoping for a win while slowly sucking their account dry.
I believe in individual freedom and responsibility, but this just really disturbs me. Maybe it’s because it seems so exploitive and to be so deliberately side-stepping the issue at hand: how do you encourage responsible gambling? At least when players have to take the step of transfering a balance amount into a player’s card (a stored-value card that’s become quite popular in casinos) or turn it into chips or coins, there’s a physical transaction that occurs, a tangible sense of the amount of money involved in the bets. Make it abstract and people will empty their accounts without every fully realizing that it’s a real bank account that they’re gambling with, it’s their mortgage payment, or food money through the end of the month, or money for prescription drugs needed to stay alive.
Which just seems like a huge recipe for trouble.