Meetings & Information


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Ka-ching! Gambling addicts’ problems just got worse.

Ka-ching! Gambling addicts’ problems just got worse.

AS THE allure and glitz of Las Vegas arrive at the Potomac on Thursday in the form of MGM’s gigantic $1.4 billion casino at National Harbor, much of the buzz has been about all the lovely lucre for the gaming industry and Maryland. So spare a moment to consider the cost — to the tens of thousands of compulsive gamblers in and around the Washington area whose exposure to extreme risk just got a lot worse.
An eye-opening article in the current issue of the Atlantic magazine describes the outsize marketing efforts by gaming companies to target problem gamblers, who consist of less than 20 percent of casino patrons but provide a hugely disproportionate share of the industry’s profits. From free limos, hotel suites, liquor and gifts, to easy credit and ingratiating hosts and hostesses, casinos know how to keep their best, and most vulnerable, customers coming back for more and more . . . and more.
That’s long been the case in Nevada and the 39 other states that have also legalized gambling and opened their arms wide to casinos in the past four decades. What’s changed, and changed remarkably, are the astonishing technological advances — specifically, in electronic slot and video poker machines — that play on gamblers’ weaknesses and leave millions of them even more helpless to quit their addictions.
As the Atlantic article puts it, “A significant portion of casino revenue now comes from a small percentage of customers, most of them likely addicts, playing machines that are designed explicitly to lull them into a trancelike state that the industry refers to as ‘continuous gaming productivity.’ ”
That “trancelike state” is induced by ingenious high-tech methods, including features that coax players into believing they’d very nearly won (as they lost), and induce them to keep playing by making their losses occur more gradually. Through highly sophisticated techniques, which also include assiduous monitoring and tracking of big-time spenders by gaming companies, players are induced to go beyond their limits and their abilities to absorb losses.
Even as Maryland has raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue from casinos since they first opened in the state in 2010, the human price has mounted. Calls to the state’s gambling hotline — 800-GAMBLER — have climbed, and each year hundreds more people legally bar themselves from stepping inside a casino through the state’s Voluntary Exclusion Program (which is difficult to enforce).
By law, a minuscule portion of Maryland’s casino revenue is diverted to a state fund that provides counselors trained to deal with gambling addiction and pays for research and public awareness of the problem. But unlike some other states, Maryland — which with six casinos is now among the nation’s most concentrated gaming markets — offers no free treatment programs. Lawmakers in Annapolis have been negligent.
There are undeniable economic benefits from casinos for the state and, now, quite likely, for Prince George’s County, where MGM’s casino has created several thousand jobs. It would be foolish for lawmakers and the public to salivate over those while continuing to ignore the human toll.

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