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RGC's Insight 2011 Report now Available—Responding to Patrons with Potential Gambling Problems

Nov 09, 2012

Newscan (Vol. 14, Issue 44)

The RGC Centre for the Advancement of Best Practices has recently completed its 4th Insight Project - Insight 2011: Responding to Patrons with Potential Gambling Problems.

Gaming venue staff are often conflicted about what to do when they see patrons who may have problems. Yet these same staff can play a critical role in responding to patrons, often regulars, who they suspect may have gambling problems.

“Gaming employees can be unsure of protocol or hesitant to step in and approach a patron who they believe is experiencing problems with their gambling,” said Jamie Wiebe, Director, RGC Centre for the Advancement of Best Practices. “Insight 2011 provides a framework of best practices for gaming providers to respond and provide the best service to those patrons—for the greater benefit of the patrons and the venues themselves.”

Hearing from Gamblers

Most of the gamblers in the Insight focus group supported being approached by trained venue staff about their gambling as long as it was carefully and competently managed. At the same time, many acknowledged that they might resent the attention in the short term but that it may “plant a seed.” There was unanimity in the belief among the gamblers, however, that it is always better to do something rather than nothing.

A Clear Set of Guiding Principles Is Critical

There is no denying that the issues and challenges inherent in responding to patrons with potential gambling problems are many. First and foremost, a suspicion is not a fact until carefully assessed and verified. It is critical that any response to patrons who are demonstrating problems with their gambling is respectful, responsive and systematic.

Insight 2011 identifies a response framework built on 3 primary pathways to concern, and then examines the hallmarks of an effective response system.

A patron may disclose or request assistance

While this is relatively rare, it’s important to note that since any venue employee may be approached, all employees must have a clear set of instructions on how to respond that is simple, helpful and direct.

A third party indicates a patron has a problem

In this case, a friend or family member of a patron may approach the venue staff with concerns. It is important that staff members are sensitive in their response to the fact that problem gambling has a devastating impact on significant others in a gambler’s life.

A patron exhibits signs of a potential gambling problem

These “red flag” events can be significant incidents such as leaving a child unattended or falling asleep, or observable behaviours (such as dramatic changes in frequency of gambling or numerous ATM withdrawals). While gaming staff generally have very clear instructions regarding the required response to a wide range of incidents, most are uncertain about what to do when they observe red flag behaviours.

With each pathway to concern, frontline staff, and their supervisors, need clear instructions on the appropriate response.

Clear Policies and Instructions

It is important for gaming organizations to have clear policies and procedures for responding to patrons with potential gambling problems, including:

  • Clearly defined roles and responsibilities for all positions
  • A clear decision-making process
  • Specialized personnel well trained to assess and interact with players who may have problems
  • Staff training for all employees A process for documentation and feedback
  • A communication plan that informs patrons of the venue’s commitment, policies, and practices

Monitoring of Patrons’ Behaviour

The review found strong support for monitoring patrons who show patterns of a potential gambling problem. The capacity to monitor and document interactions with patrons serves three functions.

  • It establishes a baseline to see if observed signs are persistent or a onetime occurrence
  • It provides the gaming venue with systematic information for any further decisions
  • It can be used in combination with other information (i.e., play data) to create a more complete picture of player behaviours

Establish Clear Protocols for Patron Interactions

If after a period of monitoring a decision is reached to initiate a conversation with the player, there are characteristics deemed essential in all patron interactions:

  • Do not interrupt play
  • Ensure privacy is protected
  • Approach in a respectful and non-judgmental manner
  • Be informed about the patron’s circumstances
  • Have the appropriate training to deal with resistance
  • Provide take-away materials
  • Be prepared to follow up

It is quite possible that a patron could recognize problems and make changes in their gambling. But, what happens if gaming staff and supervisors take the steps noted above and continue to see the same or escalating problems?

At that point, the report recommends a corporately mandated and managed response that involves:

  • Monitoring patrons with potential gambling problems
  • Assembling all relevant data regarding behaviours, incidents, and play history
  • Consulting with knowledgeable venue staff about strategies to manage the customer interaction
  • Devising interactions tailored to their circumstances

Formalize the Documentation System

At present, there are a variety of customer information systems in place in gaming venues. Some of these systems already effectively monitor, record, and communicate information related to observing and interacting with patrons. Most do not.

Systematic records will help staff better assess patron risk levels and determine appropriate actions. There are existing information systems that can do this right now. In future a variety of play analytic systems can allow for even more accurate assessment of potential play problems.

About the Insight 2011 Report

The best practices for this report were developed using an approach that has proven to be highly successful in prior Insight Projects:

  • A review and analysis of the literature and relevant materials (e.g., policy documents, training materials)
  • Interviews with gaming venue staff
  • Focus groups with gamblers who have experienced problem
  • The Insight Forum, a two-day gathering of various gaming industry stakeholders, researchers, treatment providers, and gamblers to discuss, debate, and collect information on issues relevant to assisting patrons in the gaming venue

The 2011 Insight project was made possible through the support of the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, Atlantic Lottery Corporation, British Columbia Lottery Corporation, British Columbia Government Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch, Fondation Mise sur Toi, Loto-Québec, the Manitoba Lotteries Corporation, the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming, the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority and Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation.

Download the full report now