What Does Responsible Gambling Look Like?

Man Holding a Royal Flush of Hearts

You hear a lot about responsible gambling, or “responsible gaming,” as the industry likes to call it.

But what is responsible gambling?

What effect does gambling have on individuals, families, and society as a whole?

And how can gamblers cooperate with the industry to ensure that responsible gambling is encourage and promoted.

This post offers some suggestions for both the industry and the individual.

The Rise of New Types of Gambling

It’s not like responsible gambling is a new idea, but the casino industry hasn’t changed much until about 20 years ago. At that time, new types of gambling started proliferating at a faster rate. For one thing, internet gambling became a thing. For another, tribal casino growth started skyrocketing in the United States, increasing the availability of casino gambling throughout the USA.

Legislators and industry execs are now starting to contemplate being more proactive in encouraging responsible gambling. After all, if the casinos turn every customer into a gambling addict who destroys his family finances, their businesses won’t last forever. Eventually, they will face a backlash.

The answer is for casinos and legislators to work together to create best practices and processes that discourage irresponsible gambling while not hurting business.

What Is Responsible Gambling, Though?

Responsible gambling is one of those things that’s probably easiest to define by looking at its opposite – problem gambling.

What do problem gamblers do?

They gamble with money they can’t afford to lose. They gamble without joy. They gamble compulsively.

Responsible gamblers, on the other hand, have their bills caught up and money set aside for entertainment. They only gamble with that money. They quit when they’re no longer having fun or when they’re getting tired.

Responsible gamblers are operating from a choice or a decision.

Problem gamblers seem to have lost the ability to choose whether to gamble and how much to gamble.

To Some Extent, Casinos Encourage Irresponsible Gambling

Casinos don’t directly go to players and say, “Hey. Let’s take out a 2nd mortgage on your home so you can come gamble.”

But historically, they have created games – especially slot machines – which intentionally push the addiction buttons in gamblers’ brains.

In fact, the science behind slot machines, their payback percentages, and their hit ratios could almost be considered insidious. The thought process behind creating these slot machine games reminds me of the thought process tobacco executives must have engaged in over the years as they added chemicals to cigarettes to keep them burning even when they weren’t being puffed on. (Cigars go out when you’re not smoking them, but cigarettes keep burning – that’s so they can sell more product.)

But casinos are growing increasingly aware that they need to account for their business practices so they don’t ruin lives.

Casinos Are Not Much Different From Other American Businesses

I drew a comparison between cigarette companies and the casino industry, but I could have easily drawn multiple other comparisons.

For example, fast food has created increasingly addictive foods at increasingly attractive prices, all in the name of increased profits. They add sugar, salt, and fat to foods in copious amounts because such flavors create an addictive response in their customers – driving more business.

They’ve also made buying their products faster and more convenient than ever before.

Television is another example. The price of television sets has dropped dramatically over the course of my life, and the quality of the programming has improved. At the end of the day, though, this has all been in service of our corporate overlords. They want to see my attention to their advertisers.

And it’s a profitable business.

Closeup of Man Touching a Deck of Cards

I’ll provide one final example – social media, especially Facebook.

Have you noticed that the default move for refreshing your screen on Facebook is the same as pulling a lever on a slot machine?

The idea is that you don’t know what kind of reward you’re going to get.

The idea of “likes” is also another tool to get you addicted to the social media platform.

And to what purpose?

Again, it’s all so they can sell your attention to advertisers.

Will the Gambling Industry Do Anything to Promote Responsible Gambling?

One recent effort by the industry has been for various industry associations to join forces with universities and responsible gambling advocates to study which best practices actually help achieve the goal of responsible gambling.

This led to the formation of the Responsible Gaming Collaborative.

Who participates in this effort?

Universities like Harvard and Yale are involved, as well as the American Gaming Association. They also have representatives from medical schools and other gambling industry organizations. They’ve tried to be comprehensive and solicit participation from people in the tribal casino industry, the horse racing industry, and the lottery industry.

Their goal is to create legal frameworks and operating policies that actually work to promote and encourage responsible gambling.

Their starting point is to create an exhaustive overview of what policies are now in place at various gambling businesses. The idea is to pinpoint which policies work and which ones don’t.

How Important Is This?

Time will tell, but I’m optimistic.

Here’s why:

The idea is to focus like a laser on where government money is being spent effectively and where government oversight is working. The idea is to prevent damage to individuals and society from the negative effects that gambling can foster.

In other words, they just want to figure out which strategies for preventing gambling problems actually work, as opposed to those that don’t.

Right now, the gambling industry spends $300 million a year to encourage responsible gambling. That might seem like a small amount when compared to the size of the industry itself, which is a $70+ billion industry worldwide, but it’s still not exactly small change.

And right now, there are no measures in place to measure the effectiveness of that spend. There are no consistent accountability measures to speak of when looking at that spend.

In fact, most experts agree that problem gambling hasn’t gotten the research it deserves.

And since sports betting has just become legal in multiple states, and it’s expected to become legal in still more states, such research is more important now than ever before.

How Big a Problem Is Problem Gambling?

Problem gambling is probably a bigger problem than most people think.

And blaming the sick person is almost certainly the wrong approach. Vilifying problem gamblers or categorizing them as weak people with low character, does little to help improve society. It’s also not fair or accurate.

It doesn’t seem to matter what the gambling activity is – problem gamblers will have problems with it. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the lottery, slot machines, or sports betting. These activities all have the potential to ruin people’s lives.

Problem gamblers come from all walks of life, too, although some demographics are more prone than others. Senior citizens, for example, often develop problems. But college students, minorities, and the military also develop problems.

How many people in the United States have a gambling problem?

It’s estimated that it’s about 2.5 million, and only 15% of those people seek treatment of some kind.

And until now, public policy has focused largely on looking into what can be done for problem gamblers who seek treatment. Little attention has been paid to prevention efforts.

What Do Responsible Gamblers Do that Compulsive Gamblers Don’t Do, and Vice Versa?

Gamblers Anonymous has list of 20 questions to ask yourself about your gambling habits. These can give you a good idea of what the difference between responsible gambling and compulsive gambling is.

The first question on their list is whether you’ve lost time from work or school because you were gambling. Responsible gamblers don’t set aside their major responsibilities to gamble.

The 2nd question has to do with whether your gambling has made your home life unhappy. I’m not a compulsive gambler, but I am a recovering alcoholic. And I can promise you, my home life was unhappy as a result of my drinking.

Does gambling affect your reputation?

Dice on a Chessboard

That usually doesn’t happen unless you have a problem.

Responsible gamblers don’t feel remorseful after gambling. Responsible gamblers also don’t gamble to try to pay debts or solve their financial problems.

People who lose efficiency at work or lack ambition because of their gambling might have a problem, too.

No one should gamble until they’re broke. That’s an obvious sign of a problem.

You shouldn’t sell your belongings to have money to gamble with.

Basically, if you have any kinds of life problems related to your gambling, you might be a problem gambler.

By definition, if you don’t have problems related to your gambling, you’re not a problem gambler.

My advice?

Stick with a budget and have other hobbies. Don’t gamble money you need for other things. If you develop any kind of problem related to your gambling, it’s time to quit – immediately. Don’t wait until the problem gets big.


Responsible gambling is better than problem gambling. Casinos should do more to promote responsible gambling because it’s the right thing to do. You’re always going to deal with businesses which don’t much care and just want to make as much money as possible.

But a large percentage of businesses want to make a buck ethically, too. Some of these industry associations are making efforts.

We’ll see how well those efforts bear fruit in the coming years.