Should There Be a Line Drawn?
My attention has recently been brought to an article published by the New York Times that focuses on an individual who lost £2,600 within a span of forty-two minutes at a fixed odds betting terminal in Northwest London:
While substantial for many people (myself included) the actual amount lost within that span of time is itself unremarkable, but that’s not why the NYT decided to focus on this gentleman. As you might expect, it was simply the lead-in to a discourse on problem gambling. I will continue that discourse here, and encourage everyone to reply in the comments with your thoughts.
Quoting from the NYT Article:
“I just don’t know why I go in, and this is the problem,” Mr. Franklin, 46, said a few hours later. “You know you’re going to lose.”
It is that type of attitude, perhaps more than anything else, that proves that Mr. Franklin is a problem gambler.
The simple fact of the matter is that, while most players do (and should) expect to lose while playing a negative expectation game, the vast majority of them hope to win. There is so much behind Mr. Franklin’s use of that simple four-letter word, ‘Know,’ that I could write an entire article just based off of that.
How can a person know he is going to lose? Is he making a bet with a 100% House Edge?
Of course not, the simple fact of the matter is that Mr. Franklin, in all likelihood, walked into the place knowing that he would just continue to gamble until he lost everything that he brought with him.
Again, while a staggering loss for some people, there is nothing particularly alarming about the amount in and of itself. In fact, there are some people who make individual bets that are greater than that as a matter of course. What is alarming is to have the mentality that you are going to lose and to go in there anyway.
I am reminded of a stop at a bar once during which someone was playing one of the West Virginia Video Lottery devices. The gentleman in question, on these machines that (by jurisdictional rule) accept a maximum bill of $20 and only offer max bets as high as $2.00/spin, managed to somehow lose $1,000 in the course of four hours. If we assume the machine held about 10%, then he would have had $10,000 coin-in, which is $2,500 per hour wagered and 1,250 spins per hour at $2.00/yank.
There are a few variables that could have happened there. For one thing, he could have ran badly and lost quicker than expected, especially since I do not suspect that he got 1,250 spins per hour in, even though he was, “Slam-Stopping,” everything, bonus games included. Besides that, do not forget that he had to load up the machine $20 at a time because they literally will not accept 100’s.
I wasn’t watching him intently, I’m only aware of the amount because I could clearly hear him ask the bartender, “Break this $100 please,” every single time he left the room. He wasn’t drinking, eating, smoking, texting or talking...it was just gambling and, “Break this hundred please. Thank you.”
After the gentleman finally left (I later found out to get MORE cash) I asked the bartender, “What happened, did he hit a hand pay and now he’s hoping to replicate it?”
The barkeep responded, “Hand pay? Your ticket is the first ticket I’ve even seen come out of that room tonight.”
I followed, “I guess he’s hoping to win half a million dollars, then. How much did he lose before I got here?”
“The Hell if I know, I’m not his dad.”
While there have been many Legislative attempts, in varying jurisdictions, to emphasize that employees/operators should enact stronger measures to identify and deal with problem gamblers, many of those measures seem to be more for show than anything else.
More importantly, I don’t even know that the problem really begins and ends with Government, or with the operators. The fact of the matter is that all of the people involved are adults who are making a decision to do something with their money. Granted, I recognize the fact that some people seem powerless to control the decision they are making, but that is hardly unique to gambling.
My question is: Would it not be better for individual people, acting as individual people (rather than employees) to stop someone and say, “That’s enough.” Bartenders certainly cut someone off from drinking in many cases, but I suspect that is more due to potential liabilities that may be incurred by the establishment and/or the desire not to have to clean up someone’s vomit. Given that the only KNOWN victims of this sort of fanatical compulsive gambling are the individuals themselves, and any other victims (families) are unseen by the establishment, maybe it is for that reason that people don’t often feel the need to step in and do anything?
The other factor is that it is honestly not always easy to stop being an employee and to start being a person. The individual employed by the establishment has his/her own life and his/her own problems, and I’m sure that person does not want to add unemployment to the list of things they have going on. The person playing the machines, after all, could complain to management about the employee, “Not minding his own business,” or another customer friendly with management/ownership might say, “Hey, you know (name) is stopping people playing back there. That’s probably costing you some money.”
But, what do I know?
The $1,000+ that the guy almost undoubtedly lost that night may well have resulted in him having nothing which then led to his electric being shut off two days later. On the other hand, the guy may well have been a millionaire who just likes the atmosphere of that particular establishment and losing 1k+ is nothing more than taking a cup of water out of the Pacific Ocean. Should someone have asked, though? I have occasionally dropped hints or said something to people before, but that was in the context of a guest rather than in the context of an employee of the establishment.
Beyond that, nobody can look at person and be aware of his/her entire life story. Maybe he was loaded.
I know a guy who works at a bowling alley full-time that regularly goes to one of the West Virginia parlors after work. He shall remain nameless, but you would often see him lose $100 or more in a single outing whilst playing Keno at anywhere from $0.10-$0.25 at a time. Some who know where he works but not his backstory might ask, “Did he even make that much today?”
The truth of the matter is that the gentleman I am referring to is actually quite well to do! I can’t exactly put a net worth on him, but in my occasional visits there, we became friendly and he made reference to a few things (in passing) that made it clear he’s got some bucks. He’s retired from a much better job and just does the bowling alley thing (and the parlor) to kill some time. He said his biggest problem is boredom, money is not an issue.
The funny thing is: He borrowed $20 from me one night! I’ve seen the guy’s vehicle and I have seen what’s in his vehicle, (he gave me a ride home once because the taxi was taking forever) the dude absolutely has money. With that, he asked me for $20 because, “I don’t want to pay the stupid ATM fees,” and told me he would give it back next time he saw me or I could just come in the following night and get it. He even told me he would give me anything won on it if the night ended with him at $20+, but I said just to give me the original $20 back, of course.
The point is, out of context, when you have one guy asking another guy for $20 to gamble, that should normally be taken as a bad sign, am I right? In this case, though, he just ran bad and would either have to eat ATM fees or not stay as long as he desired. Not to mention that he still had most of a beer left.
Where do we draw the line? At what point should someone ask, “Is everything okay,” just as a matter of being a fundamentally compassionate human being? At what point should someone potentially risk adverse employment consequences just to help someone else knowing damn well that it’s probably not going to work, anyway?
My concern is not so much that the casino, “Industry,” is predatory. The industry is inanimate, and as such, is incapable of being anything in and of itself. My concern is that it might occasionally cause otherwise compassionate human beings to behave in a predatory way. For instance, should an employee really face the potential of adverse consequences for looking out for another human being? Is there an industry of any other kind in which an employee might face such consequences for pointing out that a person may potentially have a problem?
Also, how much concern is, “Too much?” Is there are a certain amount, in dollars and cents, that would be a, “Trigger,” for someone to step in and ask if everything is copacetic? Could such a question be based on the amount of time that someone is spending somewhere?
Unfortunately, I don’t have any of the answers. Although, as a recreational AP, I would be shocked if not at least one person has turned to another in my, “Home,” casino and asked, “Jesus, is that guy always here?” Granted, if they have, I haven’t actually heard it.
There is also a question of industry and whether or not this propensity of some people results in nothing more than a redistribution of wealth, as would be the case in any other business. Person spends money, establishment makes money, establishment pays employees. Wash, rinse, repeat.
And, certainly, without certain types of gamblers, revenues would go down for many casinos and jurisdictions. That’s not to say that they would all close, or even that any of them would close, just that revenues would be down by virtue of the fact that less gambling is being done.
As we all know, and it varies by jurisdiction, the licenses/fees/taxes delivered to various jurisdictions by the gambling industry represent perhaps the greatest percentage of net revenues for a specific location that go to the jurisdiction. In some cases, gambling revenues are taxed in excess of 50% for certain types of games. Remember, that is a tax on revenues, rather than a tax on actual net income. (Which is also paid)
Imagine a state’s budget (assuming it has some form of gambling) without those sources of state revenues. If you think that is something that the state finds desirable, then I have a huge list of states that have either legalized or expanded commercial gambling within the last two decades to present to you!
Employees, establishments, jurisdictions, it seems that everyone is, “All-In,” on any revenues that can be garnered via gambling. In fact, the process of self-exclusion is just that, self. It is an active process on the part of the participant and not an active process of the location at which the person is participating.
On the other hand, there is some question of basic freedom for both companies and individuals. Should companies not be free to offer whatever services they like to whatever extent that the consumers of those services wish to consume them? Should individuals not be free to do whatever they like with their own money?
The question for Great Britain right now is whether or not they want to ban, “Fixed Odds Betting Terminals,” and it is a question that will be answered in the very near future. Of course, while those terminals account for more than half of the revenues at many of the shops in that jurisdiction, one thing that we can assume is that many of the affected consumers of those devices will simply find a means to gamble elsewhere. It’s not like it is difficult, especially considering the explicit legality and regulation that Internet Gambling enjoys in the UK.
What should we do? I wish I knew.