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The Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to problem gambling prevention.

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Underlying Philosophy of the RG Check Program

by Jon Kelly, CEO | Jan 18, 2013 12:29 PM

Newscan (Vol 15, Issue 2)

As most readers of Newscan will know, there have been several recent announcements about gaming venues achieving accreditation under the RG Check program. In preparing for these announcements we spent some time revisiting the philosophical underpinnings of the RG Check standards.

There are several key beliefs that form the base of the standards. The Responsible Gambling Council has created the standards and accreditation program based on a safety net model. That means that an effective set of safeguards must be multi-faceted – like the strands in a safety net. No one action by itself is enough. It would not be enough, for example, to implement only a program of player education, no matter how good, without other safeguards like self-exclusion, advertising controls, etc. After examining the safeguards in gambling as well as several other sectors, RGC observed that effective prevention is rarely based on one action or program. What is required is a comprehensive series of measures which, together, form a protective safety net. Hence, RG Check examines 8 standards and over 40 criteria.

In addition, the RGC standards and accreditation program builds in several other specific elements that are incorporated but often unstated.

1. Organizational commitment

The standards pay a lot of attention to policies, strategies and organizational culture. There is a well-documented management principle that says that the level of commitment of the organizational leaders is important to the success of any program. If there is strong and clear commitment from the most senior levels of an organization, the program is much more likely to be successful.

But, policies can be little more than platitudes unless they are backed up by planning. There needs to be a clear link between the policy intent and actions on the front line. Accomplishing this involves strategies, planning and clear instructions for staff so that attention to play safeguards is embedded across the organization.

2. Players need information, tools and encouragement to make informed decisions

Obviously, successful RG programs need to provide frequent and complete information to gamblers to enable them to make informed decisions, e.g., potential risks, the realistic chances of winning and losing, how to recognise and avoid a problem and where to get help.

Gaming companies have a wide range of communication vehicles to promote both their products and safer gambling practices. As well, individual staff members play a critical role in communicating with patrons, observing what is going on in the venue and, when the opportunity arises, conveying safer play information. It is, therefore, very important that staff are well trained and have the right information to address a variety of patron information situations. Staff training in responsible gambling is a logical extension of good customer service.

Obviously, good player information also implies that venues and games are advertised and promoted in a fair manner. That means, for example, not portraying gambling is certain ways, e.g., as a way to financial success, as a sure win or as a nice break from an unhappy home life.

One of the frequent comments we get from gamblers who have had problems is the issue of “zoning out” or being ”in the zone.” They report losing touch with the realities around them. When this happens, players are not making informed decisions but rather are driven by a compulsion that overrides reasonable self-awareness. In the words of one gaming employee, “they don’t have a stop button.” RG Check therefore looks for counterbalancing influences. Are there time cues? Is the venue open 24 hours? Again, are breaks encouraged? Do players get any feedback about their time and expenditures? Is staff observing long periods of play? Are the amenities/venue features structured in a way that breaks are easy and enticing?

As good as a player education program may be, it will never be sufficient. It is not possible to reduce problem gambling by addressing only the demand side of the equation, i.e., the patron side. That would be like trying to reduce auto accidents by driver education alone. That will never be enough to satisfy the customer protection mandate of any business.

3. Help for those who need it

Occasionally patrons will indicate that they may have a gambling problem or ask staff members where they can get help. Most venues are quite good at providing that type of information in response to overt questions. But that type of situation is rare.

Some people who gamble in venues exhibit observable and well-documented signs that they may have a gambling problem. That may mean distress or anger or abuse or staying for extended periods or ignoring personal hygiene. These signs, individually, may not mean anything. When they are part of a pattern or a sudden change in behaviours should signal a potential problem. The RG Check standards build in the expectation that there should be processes in place for identifying people who may have problems and assisting them. This is not diagnosing or treating a problem but, rather, systematically addressing these situations in a respectful way. Here again well-trained staff plays a crucial role in noting potential problems and addressing them.

4. Cautiously managed access to money

We also believe that access to money should be controlled in a way that mitigates impulsive and excessive access to cash and, more importantly, credit. Controlling access to money is intuitively appealing as an important RG measure. But beyond this, we heard this theme from a wide range of experts several years ago when we did a joint research project with the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Corporation.

In the end, it takes all of these elements to form an effective safety net.