The Success Rates of Proactivity – Dr. Brett Abarbanel, UNLV

by Kirk Sanford

How the International Gaming Institute Researches the Effectiveness of GameSense, and Why Responsible Gaming Efforts Don’t Need Empty Promises

Dr. Brett Abarbanel is the Director of Research at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Today, she’s discussing the Institute’s research into GameSense and how companies can implement responsible gaming practices into their everyday operations. 

(Note: There’s a discursive shift in the terminology defining “responsible gaming” versus “responsible gambling,” notes Abarbanel. “Gaming” refers to the entire concept of gambling and not just the gamble itself; as industry members continue to work in this space, they tend to use the phrases interchangeably, as she does in this podcast.)

Researching GameSense

These days, the International Gaming Institute is conducting several projects that cover a gamut of gambling subjects. They recently received a state grant to expand the Nevada Problem Gambling Projectand are currently researching MGM’s implementation of GameSense from both the employee and customer angle.

GameSense is a program that proactively encourages people to gamble in a healthy, responsible manner. Recently, MGM licensed GameSense from BCLC and is working to streamline it into their customer service. Within this first year, the IGI has conducted a series of focus groups with employees at MGM, including staff from the cocktail services, front desk, table games, M life, and MGM’s corporate offices. 

Early Conclusions

The consensus from these early focus groups is that employees generally felt more equipped to offer help if it is needed, and also feel more trusted to act responsibly of their own accord. 

With gambling, it’s unlikely that issues will be reflected in someone’s physical appearance, and employees who are trained with GameSense don’t diagnose problems. Instead, they look for signs that someone might need assistance and then offer it. They may suggest that an individual takes a break and then suggest a good restaurant nearby, or may ask if the customer wants to see a trained GameSense advisor for more thorough help. 

Small Percentages, Big Impacts

Dr. Brett Abarbanel

The most important aspect of helping people is making sure they’re aware that there’s help available, explains Abarbanel. In one of their studies on GameSense, the IGI found that only 1.7% of customers picked up GameSense print materials. Yet, of those who picked up the brochures, 85% read through the content. Therefore, once operators can get the information into the customer’s hand, the likelihood that they’ll read it is huge.

Moreover, while it’s true that problem gambling disorders only affect 1-3% of the US population, other people are affected by problem gambling who don’t fall into the direct demographic. 

“One of the things to keep in mind when we talk about problem gambling is that, as with other issues and behaviors and addictions, it’s not necessarily just the individual who’s having problems…but also perhaps family and friends and others around them who might be affected by the issues that they’re experiencing.” Dr. Brett Abarbanel

“One of the things to keep in mind when we talk about problem gambling is that, as with other issues and behaviors and addictions, it’s not necessarily just the individual who’s having problems,” says Abarbanel, “…but also perhaps family and friends and others around them who might be affected by the issues that they’re experiencing.”

Ideally, help programs will offer aide to those within the “harm umbrella” who reach out to ask how they can help their afflicted loved ones. 

Backing Up Your Promises

Of companies who want to demonstrate their commitment to responsible gaming, Abarbanel asks: Are resources available to both customers and employees, the latter group being a known vulnerable population? Is the company reaching out to its stakeholders, to treatment providers, to researchers? Are they following up with the National Center for Responsible Gaming to learn more about gambling disorder? 

Essentially, anything that a company can do to go above and beyond compliance is immensely worthwhile. It’s time for operators to prove that they care about responsible gaming, because actions speak louder than fliers stuck in a corner of the casino floor. 

Listen to Dr. Abarnel’s interview by clicking here.

Follow episode guest Dr. Brett Abarbanel on Twitter


●      The International Gaming Institute at UNLV

●      William F. Hera College of Hospitality at UNLV

●      Gambling Treatment and Research Center at the School of Psychology at the University of Sydney

●      Nevada Problem Gambling Project 

●      MGM and GameSense

●      British Columbia Lottery Corporation

●      MGM Springfield

●      Who’s affected by problem gambling 

●      Global Gaming Expo (G2E)

Responsible Gaming Education Week

Responsible Gaming Education Week (RGEW) was created by the AGA in 1998 to increase awareness of problem gambling among gaming industry employees and customers and to promote responsible gaming nationwide.

The AGA and the entire gaming industry realize that education is essential to promoting responsible play and increasing awareness of gambling disorders, and RGEW provides gaming companies with an opportunity to expand on work they do every day educating employees and patrons about the issue.

About Sightline

Today’s modern casino gaming industry is anything but modern — it’s one of the largest cash-based industries on the planet with hundreds of billions of dollars used as the medium of exchange, resulting in unnecessary hassles, risks, and costs. Sightline is on a mission to change this — building the gaming world’s first truly cashless ecosystem with its flagship solution Play+

Named “Most Innovative Gaming Technology Product of the Year,” Play+ allows consumers a cashless and seamless, mobile commerce experience for hospitality and gaming; including, online, mobile, on-premise slots, tables games, and sports. The Play+ digital platform is embraced by integrated casino resorts, sports betting, and lottery platforms, including the largest and most well-recognized casino resort and sports betting brands. Sightline is based in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Kirk Sanford, Sightline CEO