Thursday, April 7, 2011

How Responsibly Do Casinos Want You To Game? Not Very.

Yesterday, I needed to look up when the Monte Carlo offers free gambling lessons for an upcoming update of my Random House/Knopf guidebook of Vegas. I went to the resort's website, then clicked on the tab for CASINO and found myself on a screen with many options.

This one intrigued me:

Huh. What exactly is a "Responsible Gaming Tour"? I clicked on it because I thought perhaps it would lead me to the dates and times for those free lessons. Knowing the rules of the games is certainly one way to play responsibly, no?

Well, no. When you click on that, you end up with this:

When you click on this video, you watch a lesbo-erotic scene at a craps table where sexy ladies score big on a bet.

That looks like FUN, right? Winning, duh!

OK. So imagine this. You think you might be an addicted gambler and you want to know more, and the first thing you see are the words "HIT THE CASINO." Awesome! Then, after being inserted in this girl-on-girl fantasy of gambling, you scroll down below to boilerplate about what a phenomenally altruistic place the Monte Carlo is. A variation of the the same screed appears on every MGM Resorts site that provides a responsible gaming section -- the sites for Aria and Circus Circus don't even bother, which is interesting -- and what is there is very poorly written, self-congratulatory hooey.

Go look for yourself; the first 260 words of the 400-word copy block is all about the things the resort does to combat problem gambling. Only near the end -- almost as an aside -- do they stick this little bit of useful intel:

If you feel you need help, please call the following 24-hour confidential national hotline:
Nevada Council on Problem Gambling 1 (800) 522-4700

Yeah. They're really trying to help you.

I became curious, so I went to see what the other casino sites do on this score. The results were fascinating and surprising. The Mirage, MGM Grand and New York-New York were reasonably straightforward and appropriately understated...

...but some of the others offered imagery that defeats the message. Mandalay Bay and Luxor, for instance, think happy hot babes aptly illustrate compulsive gambling... did Hooters, although it's hard to understand why Hooters couldn't do a better job on this, uh, front:

I like how the Bellagio seems to suggest that the addictive-inclined may find alcohol a wonderful alternative to putting the college fund on the Steelers:

There's also the having-fun-and-getting-lucky approach of MGM Grand Detroit, Stratosphere, Foxwoods, the Tropicana, Treasure Island and all the Boyd resorts:

The Excalibur also seemed to imply compulsive gambling could lead to a happy relationship...

...although maybe they're making a subversive remark about this woman's impaired judgment seeing how her alleged paramour also appeared here:

The Caesars Entertainment properties all feed to the same place where, evidently, gambling makes you very happy and royal flushes are yours for the taking:

The trouble with Caesars is their sites don't even offer a responsible gaming tab under the heading for casino information. Instead, you must scrape the bottom of each resort's site to the fine print. Here's the whole Caesars Palace homepage...

...and way, way down on the bottom, look at what you find:

The Boyd properties pull the same gag:

Like MGM, the most important thing to Boyd and Caesars about responsible gaming is . . . how great Boyd and Caesars are about responsible gaming. Of the 2,200 words of blather on Caesars' site, it takes 900 before they get to what you should do it you think you're an addict. And even then it's all about them, see:

In 1995, Caesars Entertainment helped fund the creation and start-up of the first national helpline (1-800-522-4700) for problem gambling - providing callers with counseling and direction to local assistance in any state. Our funding to assist local health service agencies, councils, and seminars continues yearly through funding efforts by our corporate office and casino properties. Knowing gambling problems can potentially reach the "other side" of the table, Caesars Entertainment provides confidential counseling assistance for employees through our Employee Assistance Program.

Gosh, aren't they just the noblest?

The Palms and Cosmo don't dress up their RG sites. Look how plain and unadorned they are:

Meanwhile, the art on the Wynn site is at least appropriate, showing some manicured shlub forking over his dough...

...and this guy in the Station Casino image doesn't look like he's enjoying at ALL.

Still, in all these cases, links to various entertainment and gaming options -- where you'll find happy images of lucky, sexy winners, no doubt -- are right there next to the wet-blanket message. Can you imagine a site for information about alcoholism that has links to all the best brands of beer and the nearest saloon? Or a sex addiction site adorned by images of really hot, undressed men and women? Or an overeaters anonymous site with fried chicken-and-Doritos wallpaper?

I do appreciate the simplicity of the copy on the Palms' page. This is all there is, and perhaps all that's necessary:

For most people gambling is entertainment
For others, it can be a serious problem. Report a problem.
Gambling is exciting, entertaining and should be fun, but for some it’s a serious problem.
If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, please call 1.800.522.4700 or visit the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling at

Two examples of better efforts stood out from my survey.

First, Borgata in Atlantic City. This is interesting because it's co-owned (for now!) by MGM Resorts, which does a poor job of providing Web information and often packages it with such defeating imagery, and Boyd, which makes visitors pull out a microscope to even find the RG link. The Borgata's RG tab is still hard to find -- the link is tiny and at the bottom of each page -- but then there is this pop-up:

There's a lot less of the we're-so-awesome crap; it's just straight advice on what to do and how to define problem gambling. But more importantly, it's disembodied from the rest of the site. Plus, they make it easy to print out, too. It's as if someone's thought about this or something.

But the folks who do this the best and most sincerely are . . . the Las Vegas Sands. I know, that shocked me, too. They make their RG section so prominent on their homepage that Google shows it as a top option...

...and they seem to have considered what sort of art to display with their message:

You wanna be that despondent fellow? I sure don't.

What's more, there's some brief blah-blah about what Sands does but much more prominent is the hotline phone number right there for where to call. And rather than littering the page with all sorts of advertisements and links enticing you to do the activity that you're concerned you can't stop doing, you see this rail instead:

Check it out. This is how it ought to be done. Given that LVS CEO Sheldon Adelson actually once told me that there's no such thing as gambling addiction in Asia, I'm further impressed that there's information and an organized program available specific for Macau and Singapore. Then again, Adelson's wife is an addiction specialist, so maybe it's her influence.

Bottom line is that it's clear from the material that MGM, Boyd and Caesars, among others, view this primarily as a feel-good public relations tool rather than information that could save someone's life. If they were serious about this they would:

* Skip all the yappity yap about how responsible they are and lead with how you can get help
* Make sure visitors don't have to hunt too hard to find the information on every page of their sites
* Choose imagery that does NOT whet one's appetite to do that which the visitor is attempting to abstain
* Set up a page separate from the rest of the site without alluring links

I didn't intend to do all of this -- I got on a kick and couldn't stop -- but I think this is a pretty important matter. Anyone who has ever had an addiction knows how hard it is to stop. If the casino industry actually wants to be taken seriously, they need to fix this today. Otherwise, their next "Responsible Gaming Week" will be a farce.


Michael said...

I don't think the casino wants to be taken seriously, I could see how that assumption could be made though, but in truth most efforts by a casino for responsible gaming are typically either politically motivated, or legally required. Let's be honest, it's not exactly surprising that companies that make 50% of their revenue from gaming are overly concerned about the welfare of an individual. The only concern they have in that case is liability. In truth there is nothing wrong with that.

Anonymous said...

Everytime I see Gary Loveman during a poker show talk about responsible gaming and giving the number for problem gamblers to call, I think that the number directs the caller to a casino host.


Thomas said...

Nice work, Steve !

El said...

Michael is right. I'm guessing those "Responsible Gaming" notices are legally mandated. The fact various companies all use those exact words means it's likely a regulatory thing.

I don't fault gaming companies for failing to make the notices more prominent. Like anyone in trouble is looking to a casino website for help anyway. "I think I have a problem with gambling. Where can I go for help?" Would a casino website be in the top 100 places on any reasonable person's list?

I'm hardly pro-big business, but it all reeks of silly laws stepping in where personal responsibility should lord. I'm overweight... Let me turn to a fast food company's site for nutrition advice. When it comes to vice -- gambling, booze or even food -- people know what they're doing and we can't be saved from ourselves.

During my brief time in gaming -- advertising and promotions for a small, regional player -- we toyed with putting the state-mandated buzzkill line at the beginning of our radio spots... To prevent the lawyer voice from harshing our mellow after the (finely crafted) pitch.

JoAnna said...

This is fascinating. I never would have thought to look so deeply into the Responsible Gaming pages, but I'm glad you did because now I'm definitely intrigued by the marketing messages these send. Thanks for bringing this issue up.

Anonymous said...

As Gary Loveman said at Global Gaming Expo, Harrah's players have higher-than-average incomes, so gambling addiction isn't a problem at his properties. (And if you believe that ...) Then there's the bill currently before the Assembly that would allow mobile-gambling devices to be used anywhere -- and by anyone -- on a casino property, not just in public areas. Gambling: It's not just for grown-ups anymore.

David McKee

Brent Park said...

I think the thought of responsible gaming that must stick in our head is that we must be liable on handling the winnings. To be a responsible player, one should abide by the standard rules and set his own limitations.