What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but when it comes to responsible gambling, what happens in British Columbia (B.C.) travels well beyond B.C.’s borders. GameSense, a made-in-B.C. program is now making its debut in Las Vegas thanks to a strong desire by MGM to encourage responsible gambling in the gambling mecca and other cities in the U.S.

The British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC), the Canadian crown corporation which oversees socially responsible gambling entertainment throughout the province, announced it entered into a licensing agreement with MGM Resorts International (MGM) for the use of its GameSense responsible gambling brand. The landmark agreement, the first of its kind for any U.S. casino operator, was announced in February. In partnership with BCLC, MGM became the first private gambling company to license the award-winning responsible gambling program in its resorts. 

As part of the agreement, MGM has also committed to provide $1 million over five years towards a research partnership between BCLC, MGM and the University of Nevada Las Vegas’ (UNLV) International Gaming Institute in the field of responsible gambling. UNLV will assemble a team of internationally renowned experts in responsible gambling, and will also work closely with the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Gambling Research.

Earlier this year, the BCLC released a conversation between BCLC CEO Jim Lightbody, and MGM Executive Vice President Alan Feldman where they discussed their views on the announcement and the impacts it can have on their organizations.  Here are some excerpts from that conversation:

What is GameSense and how is it different from other responsible gaming (RG) programs?

Lightbody: At BCLC we wanted to create a program that helps players make responsible choices and provides information that allows players to balance the fun aspects of gambling with mindfulness. GameSense presents responsible gambling information to players in a non-judgmental, engaging manner to promote responsible play, remove the stigma around problem gambling and connect those who recognize they have a problem to the resources they need.

GameSense is a multi-faceted program that includes GameSense Info Centers that are located on or near casino floors, and GameSense Advisors (GSAs) who are trained to answer questions about how games work, odds and myths about gambling. These advisors can also offer confidential support and refer players to treatment. 

A key component of GameSense training includes mandatory Appropriate Response Training for all front-line gaming staff, not just GSAs, to assist those that may be experiencing a problem with gambling.

Over the years BCLC has been successful in raising awareness of responsible gambling practices through GameSense. Going forward we want to focus on better understanding how we can change behaviors and outcomes for the at-risk population.

What attracted MGM Resorts to GameSense?

Feldman: A couple of years ago we did an internal evaluation of our RG program, and while we reinforced that we offer our guests a strong program, we also felt there was something missing.  We recognized that we wanted to improve the program and transition responsible gambling away from compliance policy and into more of a customer service enhancement. 

At this same time, we were granted a license to develop a resort in Springfield, Mass.  As a licensee, we were informed that the Massachusetts Gaming Council had licensed GameSense and that MGM Springfield would be required to adopt the program. When we looked at GameSense for Springfield, we saw a proactive program that is rooted in enhancing the overall customer experience. GameSense promotes positive play and gives players the tools to make informed decisions when gambling.  The more we learned, the more it became clear that GameSense embodied all of the elements that we were looking for in developing a new responsible gambling program. Discussion began in 2015 with BCLC and here we are.

What will this partnership do for your organization?

Lightbody: This partnership is going to produce great results, not only for BCLC, but for the entire responsible gambling community. 

GameSense has been a successful program and we are always trying to improve it. We are excited to see what we can learn from MGM Resorts when GameSense is implemented into an integrated resort model. 

In addition to generating a small annual revenue for BCLC, a partnership with MGM will also allow us to continually improve the GameSense experience and tailor programming to players, staff, gambling workers and the public.  This will come from our ability to leverage MGM’s vast network of diverse resorts across the U.S. to enhance metrics and evaluation of GameSense products and programming. There is also a large research component to our partnership that will provide us new, data-driven, scientifically-based information to measure GameSense.

Feldman: I think this partnership will be incredibly beneficial to MGM, but will also provide benefit to the broader gambling industry. I fundamentally believe that, as an industry, we need to change the way that we view responsible gambling. We need to shift focus away from discussing responsible gambling as compliance policy and transition it to a discussion about enhancing customer service. If this partnership is able to facilitate that change, then I will view it as a success.  

For MGM, the benefit will be for our guests and employees. We are going to provide both with a program that has a strong brand recognition that educates and encourages RG best practices.  This includes an enterprise-wide adoption of modern educational and marketing materials, player-engagement strategies and RG training for gambling workers and corporate staff. Research shows that guests expect companies to offer robust RG programs. I believe that the GameSense partnership will allow MGM to exceed those customer expectations.

Can you describe the research component of the partnership?

Lightbody: We are delighted that MGM has provided a $1 million research partnership between BCLC, MGM and the University of Nevada Las Vegas’ (UNLV) International Gaming Institute. UNLV will assemble a team of internationally renowned experts in responsible gambling, and work closely with the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Gambling Research. This will include a multi-faceted research project to enhance GameSense and all responsible gambling products based on new, data-driven, scientifically-based expertise in responsible gambling.

Building responsible gambling research and awareness is a key focus for both our organizations so we can continually enhance support for gamblers across North America and around the world.

Feldman: Including a significant research component in our partnership with BCLC was critical to MGM. As founding members of the National Centre on Responsible Gaming, we know how valuable scientific research can be in helping our industry understand gambling disorders.  Combining MGM’s gambling footprint with the leading academics and public sector programs provides a new dynamic approach to responsible gambling research. This new approach will include consistent monitoring, evaluation and feedback loops that share the common goal of continually improving the GameSense experience and, in doing so, increasing the opportunity for customers to make responsible choices. The results from this historic research partnership will foster future enhancements that will improve how the industry deals with problem gambling long into the future.