The opening of a new casino usually brings with it some balloons, a banner and perhaps a cake or two. But for the city of Springfield, Massachusetts, the opening of the new MGM casino has come with something else – a psychologist.
It’s because of research that shows when a new casino opens in a town, it often causes a local spike in problem gambling, although short-lived. Many gaming operators are seeking to combat this problem. Springfield, in advance of the casino’s opening, employed psychologist Lori Rugle, who offers GameSense training on how to gamble safely and responsibly.
In 2011, Massachusetts state law was updated to address the increase in problem gambling, which is why Rugle recently ran a GameSense training program a few blocks from MGM Springfield.
Six workers spent several hours a day at the center. Many of them had worked for casinos in the past. For example, Israel Rosario used to work at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. He said: “I started in security, customer service, then table games,” but he and the other graduates of the program aren’t hosting tables. Instead, they will be working as advisors for the GameSense program.
State laws require all casinos to create an on-site space for an independent body to tackle any gambling problems that arise. In the US, several different organizations offer these services; MGM has chosen GameSense for this new location.
Not counseling per se
The trained staff members will lend a caring ear to those who seek help, but they are not there to act as counselors. Psychologist Rugle said: “The GameSense advisors are really designed not to be counselors at the casino, but to be a friendly person who can relate to customers within a gambling setting. Empathic and nonjudgmental, and just being someone you can feel comfortable talking to if you don’t understand how the game is working.”
And while it may sound like a marketing move, regulators are clear that the programs are effective ways to prevent problem gambling from developing.
Mark Vander Linden, head of the responsible gambling division of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, said: “Gambling problems can often arise from misunderstandings about what gambling is and how and how to gamble. If you feel like you have a strategy that can beat the house, with those types of myths in mind, it can lead to problems down the road. What we want to do is provide information so that they can make an informed choice about when to gamble, when to stop, and when to walk away.”
Helping in different ways
Rachel Volberg, a UMass researcher who studies rates of problem gambling in the state, also supports the program. She believes that knowing how gambling odds work is important and that education could prevent people from having the idea that a machine will definitely pay out if it hasn’t for a certain length of time.
The researcher believes GameSense can help at-risk gamblers by suggesting breaks when they show the signs of developing a problem or by helping them to set a limit for the amount of money they can spend and stick to it.
During the session, participants learn about the signs of problem gambling, such as getting angry or irritable. After noticing such signs, staff members are advised to suggest self-exclusion, whereby gamers can voluntarily sign up to a list of no-go areas such as local casinos and online betting. Advisers can also give people a list of useful helplines that offer trained staff to aid them in dealing with their addiction.
A change in tact
One success story GameSense is keen to highlight is Ray Fluette from Connecticut, who was originally taught to keep people in the casinos. He said “It’s very easy to get people to come play and gamble. It’s part of pretty much everybody’s nature.”
When it comes to giving advice, Fluette believes that the more GameSense are visible, the more trusting the public will be. But he thinks that, with regular staff now being the face of GameSense, players will be more trusting of the advice they receive. However, it won’t necessarily be easy, especially with the excitement of a new casino opening. He said, “To gamble responsibly is a totally different thing. And a lot of people don’t want to hear that.”