SBC: Three Men And A Gambling Problem

Responsible gambling panelists lay bare the terrible toll that such recklessness can take
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Three men — one of them famous — gathered at the Jay-Z-owned 40/40 Club in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday afternoon to put a sometimes harrowing face on the grim pathways that compulsive gamblers encounter during their struggle.

Prison time? Check. Family life? In tatters. Finances? Ruined.

Dropping out of college. Losing jobs. Taking money out of clients’ accounts to subsidize gambling losses. Being imprisoned during a child’s prom night.

One of the men even said, just two months ago, “I placed a shotgun in front of my face” — the result of having found a way to stop gambling, but without having directly addressed his mental health issues. And that wasn’t the only tale of those darkest of thoughts from a panel aptly titled “Lived Experiences.”

While responsible gambling forums sometimes can tilt toward the abstract, Tuesday’s discussion put an indelibly human face on a societal issue that could become more prevalent with the massive expansion of legal sports betting in the U.S. since a landmark May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling opened the door for Las Vegas-style bets on games in any state whose lawmakers desire it.

The panel opened Tuesday’s half-day “Player Protection Symposium,” hosted by Epic Risk Management, that launched the two-day SBC Summit North America conference at New Jersey‘s Meadowlands Exposition Center.

The road to recovery

For WFAN sports talk radio host Craig Carton and a pair of kindred spirits, there also were tales of partial redemption for those who have wound up in such dire circumstances.

Carton hosts a compulsive gambling issues show on Saturday mornings. Brian Hatch created ALL IN: The Addicted Gambler’s Podcast podcast. And Jeffrey Wasserman, who said he drew great inspiration in his recovery from the podcast, now co-hosts of that program while also serving as judicial outreach and development director for the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems.

Gamblers Anonymous and therapy work better for some than others, the men noted, adding that younger compulsive gamblers likely will be more inclined to find appeal in a podcast or in a Zoom call. They also were united in the gratification they get from their collective efforts to encourage bettors to get help at an earlier stage in the process.

“The idea of saving lives and families — there’s no better feeling than that,” said one panelist.

Carton: Work together to help problem gamblers

Carton, who served more than a year in prison for defrauding millions of dollars from investors in a ticket-selling Ponzi scheme that he has said was the result of his gambling losses, told the audience of sports betting industry executives that coordination by sportsbook operators was a key to mitigating some of the harm of compulsive gambling.

“The only way for a line of defense to work is if you guys, at some point, get together,” Carton said. “Because when I was shopping from one casino to the next, one sportsbook to the next, if they all agreed that I showed signs of being a compulsive gambler and all agreed to shut me down, I wouldn’t have gotten to the next step. Compulsive gamblers, we like to shop around.

“You have to have a united front in protecting people from themselves,” added Carton, who suggested that his own New York radio station is deriving the bulk of its advertising revenue from gambling companies. “That’s the day we can start solving the problem — and otherwise, we’re never going to solve it. I’ve got to believe that 1% of your gross income is worth addressing this problem. There’s too much money going in for it not to be. The flip side is you’ll suffer if you don’t, because people will start getting pissed that their kids, their relatives, their loved ones have a problem — and no one did anything to try to stop it.”

Another point of agreement was the need for a creative marketing campaign to get across a message that gambling, while a harmless diversion to most, can have serious consequences for a few million people who become obsessed with it.

Other suggestions for improving the industry

A familiar theme at gaming conferences in the past year has been efforts to clarify what responsible gambling is, given that the answer can vary widely.

“For me, responsible gambling is no gambling,” a panelist said, “but I understand that it’s different for people who will never get anywhere near the addiction that I reached.”

Another panelist objected to the widespread use of the term “gaming,” when the topic is gambling. And yet another suggested that the public should be educated about the poor odds offered on multi-leg parlays in an industry where “single-game parlays” are dominating advertising in and around the 26 states that have launched legal sports betting.

“Free bets” — inducements of up to $1,000 or more to sign up for a sports betting app — aren’t quite as “free” as claimed, it was also noted, given that consumers can’t simply win that first bet and then immediately withdraw the money without having to risk it in later bets. A nationwide collaboration to have one single consumer hotline for those seeking help with their problem gambling continues to be a goal in the industry as well.

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