Sudhir Kalé, Founder and Principal, GamePlan Consultants
I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to have a good time sitting at a bar in front of a bartender who has just told me that he does not drink. Whatever the logical reasons for the person’s abstinence, my interpretation of this reported refrain makes me feel guilty and unwelcome. The same is true about casino employees and gambling. I find it hard to connect with a Blackjack dealer who tells me that she never gambles.
Gambling among casino employees has always been a topic of contention. There has been some scholarly research on the topic based on two competing hypotheses. The first one is the Exposure Hypothesis. This hypothesis suggests that increased exposure to a gambling product leads to increased propensity to gamble and manifests into a high risk of problem-gambling.
Contrasting this hypothesis is the Adaptation Hypothesis which suggests that with increased exposure to gambling stimuli, people get adapted to the stimuli and develop an immunity to the lure of gambling. Increased exposure should, therefore, lessen, not increase the risk of problem gambling.
Who is more exposed to gambling stimuli than casino employees? If the exposure hypothesis is right, should we not protect these employees from possible gambling addiction and its attendant problems? Shouldn’t there be regulations to prevent casino employees from gambling in casinos? Could possible problem gambling on the part of casino employees cause them to engage in fraud and theft in the workplace? Some governments definitely think so.
Jurisdictions such as Singapore and Macau, have banned casino employees from entering casinos and from gambling during their non-working hours. In Singapore, no licensed casino employee can gamble in either of the city’s two integrated resorts, Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa. Macau put a ban on gambling among casino employees through a legislative order that came into effect back in December 2018. The legislation covers all workers in the sector and provides for administrative sanctions ranging from one thousand to ten thousand patacas [approximately US$125 to $1250].
But how strong is the research evidence for the exposure hypothesis? There do exist a few scientific articles on the topic supporting the notion that incidences of gambling and problem gambling among casino employees exceed those observed among the general population. However, most of these studies suffer from lack of appropriate controls, and their validity, therefore, is open to question. For instance, could it be that mostly people with a penchant for gambling are interested in casino jobs in the first place?
In 2018, just before Macau decided to ban casino employees from gambling in casinos, my colleagues Zhonglu Zeng, David Forrest, and I decided to put the two hypotheses to the test. We examined the gambling behaviors of Macau casino employees compared to the general population of Macau who were not casino workers. The study was recently published in the Journal of Gambling Studies, the top research journal for studies on responsible gambling.
We looked at frequency, average duration of each gambling session, and the maximum bet size for casino employees as well as non-employees. Each group was asked to state how often they gambled, for how long each time, and their maximum current bet (within the past twelve months) and compared to the time they first started gambling.
The results of our study suggest that indicators of heavy gambling involvement among casino employees were no higher than among other residents of Macau. In terms of gambling frequency, casino employees actually played less often than the general adult population in China’s gaming mecca. Furthermore, as both casino employees and non-employees in Macau have been increasingly exposed to the gambling product over the last decade and a half, the rate of problem gambling among both groups has actually dropped.
What do our findings mean for casino employees gambling in casinos? Our research suggests that the policy of banning casino employees from gambling in casinos may be based on less than solid research and hence misguided.
There may actually be some advantages to hiring casino staff who do occasionally have a flutter. These staff would know first-hand the elation and disappointment so frequently experienced by their customers in the casino. They would be more empathetic toward customers, and customers would have a better experience interacting with such staff. Empathy enables the development of an emotional connection with customers, so essential for customer intimacy and engagement.
I am totally in favor of responsible gambling policies and initiatives grounded in established research. Mandates based on individual ideology or cultural beliefs—devoid of scientific evidence—would do nothing to curb problem gambling but could adversely impact the quality of customer experience instead!
Sudhir H. Kalé, Ph.D. is a gaming scholar and casino consultant. He has published more than 100 articles on casino marketing, management, and responsible gambling. Sudhir is the Founder and CEO of GamePlan Consultants, a boutique consultancy that has advised casino companies on five continents. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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