Research from Canada conducted in 2011 that showed casinos make an inordinate amount of their revenue from problem gamblers has attracted the attention of the Provincial Government. The finding has been brought to light again as a result of the increased interest, revealing the shocking degree to which casinos benefit from addiction. The study may be from Alberta, Canada, but the conclusion is extremely unlikely to be confined to the one location—the ugly truth is that casinos are the ultimate benefactors from gambling addiction, taking the majority of their revenue from people who have a problem.
Addictions don’t all depend on substances; in fact, the “rush” from many activities—from shopping to Internet usage—can foster addiction-like behaviors. Gambling is supposedly for pleasure, but the rush that comes from a near-miss or a win hooks some people into addiction or problem gambling. The distinction between problem gambling and gambling addiction is important. The key fact about gambling addiction is that it’s compulsive, so the individuals suffering from it are unable to stop themselves from placing another bet. Problem gamblers, on the other hand, do things like bet more than they can afford to lose, “chase” their losses and run into problems in their lives because of gambling. In essence, problem gamblers have an abusive relationship with gambling in the same way problem drinkers have with alcohol.
The research was conducted by the University of Lethbridge, and looked at gambling revenues in Alberta and where they come from. Two to three percent of the population in the area has a gambling problem, and these same people provide around 50 percent of the gambling industry’s revenue. This means that overall around half of the money made by casinos comes directly from the pockets of people suffering from an addiction. The glitzy image of a casino taking money from problem gamblers contrasts starkly with a drug addict scoring a hit from a shady dealer, but there are undeniable similarities illustrated by their source of revenue. The problem is bigger in Alberta than any other area in Canada, and 4.2 percent of the province’s revenue comes directly from problem gamblers as a result. In addition, there are thought to be 50 suicides per year in the region because of gambling.
Casinos aren’t painted in a good light by the research, and it raises additional issues with the known tricks they employ to get people to stay and gamble more. One of the researchers, Robert Williams, recently publicly criticized casinos for their purposefully disorientating designs. He points out how casinos don’t have clocks and they often employ complex layouts and mirrors to confuse customers. The aim is to prevent patrons from finding their way out, creating labyrinths peppered with machines colored blue in an effort to encourage betting.
Many people already know about these tricks, but from personal experience I can tell you that it still took me at least 10 minutes to escape Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, for example, despite knowing about them and not suffering from compulsive or problem gambling. You’re left wandering around almost aimlessly, looking in vain for any sign of a route out of the vast, sprawling profit-factory. Robert Williams may be talking about Canadian casinos, but the issue is far from confined to America’s northern neighbors.
What’s Being Done About the Problem?
Alberta has the biggest gambling problem in Canada, and one of the many educational programs that have been put into place is the Set a Limit Alberta website. This provides information about problem gambling, as well as dispelling common myths which lead people into addiction, like the idea that a skilled player can consistently turn a profit from a game of chance. There is also a useful self-diagnosis tool that can help potential problem gamblers recognize if they have a problem.
The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission has also taken additional steps, such as installing Responsible Gaming Information Centers in numerous casinos in the area. This offers gamblers advice and support in the location they need it, essentially helping people determine whether they have a problem with gambling.
Prevention Is Vital, but Treatment Shouldn’t Be Forgotten
Catching gambling problems before they develop into something more serious can obviously reduce the damage done by the industry, but treatment will always be needed for some. Gambling addiction is like any other, in that it’s often relied on as a coping mechanism in the absence of healthier strategies. To address this problem, psychological counseling is absolutely essential, because it teaches gamblers more effective coping mechanisms to deal with issues such as depression. Perhaps some of the blame lies with casinos, but it’s virtually impossible to deny that some people just have a predisposition toward addiction—so if it isn’t gambling, it would potentially be shopping, alcohol, or drugs instead. Casinos might not help, but they’re an outlet for the problem, not the cause.