Casears Responsible Gaming
Many are wary of new Caesars program
By Liz Benston / Staff Writer LV SUN
The most frequent lawsuits filed by problem gamblers against casinos in recent years claim that casinos failed to protect gamblers who voluntarily banned themselves from the premises. The suits are a fallout from exclusion lists that many casinos have created on their own as well as lists that have been enacted by law in several casino states. So when Caesars Entertainment Inc. in December unveiled a program that went a step further to proactively ban gamblers who otherwise didn’t put themselves on an exclusion list, competitors distanced themselves.
Casinos have acknowledged gambling addiction as a legitimate disorder but have debated how far they should go to assist problem gamblers and whether such efforts work. One of the dissenters is Harrah’s Entertainment Inc. Chief Executive Gary Loveman. “I draw the line at the point an inference is made” about whether a gambler has a gambling problem, Loveman said. Harrah’s, like most major companies, allows people to sign up for an exclusion list. “That’s a clear-cut case,” Loveman said of people who sign such documents. Caesars executives offer the following example of how their program will work: An employee serving a gambler who says, “I’m not going to be able to pay my mortgage,” would take note of the incident and pass it on to the company’s regional legal department. The legal team, together with a corporate director of responsible gaming, will investigate the incident and decide whether to refuse service. The gambler would be notified in a letter that he or she has been placed on a nationwide exclusion list. Caesars officials initially said that Responsible Gaming Committees of senior executives at each property would ultimately decide who to exclude. The company has recently shifted that role to the legal departments, though local committees will still have a say. Customers will “identify themselves (as problem gamblers) by their words or actions,” Caesars Entertainment General Counsel Bernard E. DeLury said. “Those are going to be extreme cases and by far the fewest.”
The policy is only a small component of a larger effort to allow people to notify the company’s casinos that they no longer wish to gamble, DeLury said. The company will combine names from its exclusion lists with lists maintained by state governments. That master list will be linked with the company’s player tracking system so that gamblers are immediately denied check cashing privileges, complementaries, promotional mailings or other solicitations and points accumulated on player loyalty cards. The program builds upon existing lists maintained at certain properties by creating a uniform policy throughout the company, DeLury said.
No system is foolproof, experts say. Gamblers have re-entered casinos under assumed names and some still receive mailers after signing up for exclusion lists. Nevada casinos are required by law to allow gamblers the opportunity to remove themselves from promotional mailing lists and stop receiving other services, such as credit. But the law fell short of requiring self-exclusion programs — programs that could be virtually impossible to enforce given the number of casinos and gamblers in the state.
The American Gaming Association in December issued a “code of conduct” for members that requires casinos to make “reasonable efforts” to exclude gamblers at their request. Some member companies say Caesars’ approach goes too far. “We believe it wasn’t fair and it wasn’t wise for our (employees) to diagnose a problem gambler,” said Station Casinos Inc. spokeswoman Lesley Pittman, who served on an advisory panel that compiled the American Gaming Association’s code of conduct. The association wrestled with the issue and decided against a formal policy of proactively banning gamblers from casinos, she said. “The general consensus is that you can’t make this diagnosis without highly trained and skilled professionals (involved),” MGM MIRAGE spokesman Alan Feldman added. MGM MIRAGE has for years refused service to certain gamblers and has also removed customers from mailing lists. Creating a formal exclusion program can present legal problems for casinos, Feldman said. Trial lawyers are exploiting the fact that some excluded gamblers are still gambling, he said. “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t,” he said. “The problem with this disorder is that people don’t think clearly and they don’t communicate clearly.” Gamblers often try to hide their gambling problems from others, he said. Research has shown that people with gambling problems also suffer from other addictions, Loveman said. Separating the gambling addiction from the other disorders displayed in a casino is nearly impossible for the cocktail server or slot technician, he said. Loveman said his employees are trained to spot signs of a gambling problem and may refer gamblers to a helpline number or a pamphlet — both of which are required in Nevada casinos. “It leaves the decision entirely up to customers,” he said. “It’s their call. That’s very different from saying someone has a problem.”
Caesars employees won’t be diagnosing pathological gamblers but “identifying people who don’t appear to be enjoying (themselves) and who have told us so through their actions or their expressed words,” DeLury said. The program is much like policies at many other businesses that choose to refuse service to customers based on disruptive behavior, said Carol O’Hare, executive director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling. Arnie Wexler, a former compulsive gambler who educates employees about the disorder, helped draft Caesars’ exclusion program two years ago. “They exceeded what we gave them and it shocked me, to be honest with you,” he said. “Five to 10 years from now the naysayers are going to be doing it because it’s the right thing to do. The fact is, that if you work in the industry, you hear things and know things about players and you know if they have a problem.” Loveman said the difference between Harrah’s and Caesars’ policies amount to a “small distinction” rather than a fundamental disagreement. “I think their heart is absolutely in the right place,” he said. “It’s not where we want to go but we all want to do the right thing.”