She admitted as much Wednesday while participating in an iGB-sponsored panel discussion titled “How Collaboration Can Accelerate Safer Gambling Innovation.” Abarbanel, the executive director of UNLV’s International Gaming Institute, said her sinuses were bothering her and lamented the fact that phenylephrine— a nasal decongestant found in Nyquil, Benadryl, Sudafed, and Mucinex — had just been deemed ineffective at relieving stuffy noses by the Food and Drug Administration.
Phenylephrine has been around for decades, a span in which the efficacy of the drug wasn’t put to the test often enough. Therein lies a lesson for researchers and regulators in the responsible gambling space.
“None of this is static. It’s all evolutionary,” Abarbanel said. “All of these answers are not necessarily going to be the answer two years from now, five years from now, 10 years from now. There has to be that flexibility [for regulators and others] to update.”
Amanda Blackford, director of operations and problem gambling services for the Ohio Casino Control Commission, echoed this sentiment, saying, “In Ohio, we do prevalence surveys periodically. We got casino gaming in 2012 and before that did a baseline survey of our whole state and repeated it five years later — prevalence by gaming type, things like that. What we found was that at-risk rates and problem gambling rates had doubled.”
A little while after sports betting launched on the very first day of 2023, the OCCC did another prevalence study, of which Blackford said, “Our numbers haven’t been published yet, but what I can say is they don’t look great. We’re seeing more increases. It all starts with research, and then go back and test those problems and do more research.”
‘It’s almost a competitive thing’
Ohio, Blackford said, is fortunate to have relatively ample funding earmarked for problem and responsible gambling compared to other states — a timely reminder that the U.S. betting landscape remains an every-jurisdiction-for-itself proposition, whether it comes to legislation, financing, or regulation.
“We have to have more open dialogue with other jurisdictions,” said Blackford. “That’s been a very difficult barrier to overcome. It’s almost a competitive thing, which is really funny to me, because that just shouldn’t be the case. The whole point, especially when we’re talking about safer gambling, is best practices and setting up that structure.”
Pointing to the “hundreds of different gambling regulatory agencies” that exist in the U.S. when accounting for state and tribal agencies, Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said, “Most U.S. gambling policies aren’t consumer-centric. There’s no harmony. Online technology offers a tremendous amount of promise for better responsible gambling, for more information. But without that harmonization, it’s every company and every jurisdiction left to themselves. It can lead to a race to the bottom.”
“If there’s an open line of communication between the regulator and the operator, that’s a great starting point,” said Blackford. “We’ll always have the few we know we can count on to do it right, but especially in Ohio, we have over 44 licenses available for sports betting alone in this state. What that means is a lot of operators who are maybe new, don’t know better, who will never come to the table unless we make them through rules and regulations.”
While Whyte expressed disappointment at the fact that gambling addiction “is the only public health area in the United States where the federal government is completely uninvolved,” he was careful to articulate that there are free market incentives for gambling operators to prioritize responsible gambling.
“As gambling moves from mainly private companies to mainly publicly traded companies, they’re going to want to be seen as investment grade,” explained Whyte. “Some, like Caesars, are, but most are not.”
Furthermore, Whyte said that if gambling companies want to attract top talent, “they absolutely need to be seen as doing good with RG stuff.”
What’s the G in RG?
Wednesday’s discussion came during Responsible Gaming Education Month, which brought the question of whether the industry would be better off calling it “responsible gambling” or “responsible gaming” — or whether settling on one or the other really matters.
Through focus groups conducted in Ohio, Blackford said she’d found that “so many people don’t think that sports betting is gambling.” Hence, in order to reach those constituents, the OCCC uses language that is more focused on betting than gambling.
“It’s a lot more about making sure that we’re encompassing the right kind of language to reach different populations,” Blackford emphasized.
Specific to RG, Whyte simply wishes operators were more willing to employ the full complement of their technological resources in targeting risky behavior.
“We don’t see as much targeted RG as on the revenue side,” he said. “Any tech you use to personalize your marketing, you can use to personalize your RG.”