When Our Relationship with Casinos Turns Unhealthy

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Slots on the casino floor

I’ve been writing about gaming for a number of years now, and as part of staying in tune with what players are talking about, I’m in all sorts of player communities around the Internet. What stands out to me sometimes is the level of distrust players have in the casinos they spend their money at quite regularly.

Here in just the first few months of operation we’ve already shared a few wild examples – angry staff with iPads shutting down payouts, casinos paying fines to pay less than the minimum required by state agreement, casinos tinkering with payouts based on whose players card is in the machine. None of this is true, and the fact that players believe this is concerning, although not necessarily surprising.

Some players just want a boogeyman they can blame for their losses. They don’t want to accept that a game with an up to 15 percent advantage for the casino is going to take their money over time, and at times do so with brutal efficiency. They’ll ignore the winning sessions and focus on the losing ones.

At times like this, I think to the problem gambling messaging that casinos are always careful to ensure is part of the conversation. But sometimes this isn’t an issue of problem gambling, but more of one around healthy gambling.

Players might not be playing beyond their entertainment budget, but they can still be emotionally in a bad place when it comes to gambling. And when that happens, it can be easy to latch on to otherwise far-fetched scenarios that give them a reason to be suspicious of the casinos.

Many players don’t understand the heavy regulatory environment of gaming. The companies that make the games, the casinos that offer them, and the people that work for them all have a complex set of rules to navigate. Yes, even those tribal casinos that so many want to presume have no rules at all, but absolutely still do.

Here’s a hard pill to swallow – as individual players, most of us (the whales – massive players – perhaps being an exception) are not hugely important to casinos. Casino staff aren’t trying to wring an extra $100 out of Aunt Myrna because she won a jackpot earlier in the day by adjusting her payouts. 

Casinos are a volume business – lots of players, lots of bets, all with a house advantage. Over the long run, they should come out ahead. Occasionally there’s a bankruptcy, but the reasons for that are usually questionable business decisions instead of the games themselves.

The mindset that yields these unhealthy attitudes raises a key question: Should this be your entertainment activity if you think the places you’re going to play are trying to somehow screw you over? Perhaps this isn’t the best investment if this is how a player really feels.

One of the biggest positives to gambling as an entertainment choice is also one of the things that can make it emotional – real money’s at stake. The same choice that can let you go home on occasion with a bit of extra money in your pocket can also send you home with none. Opportunity cost, as so many of us may have learned in business classes, is a real thing.

If casinos are proving to be too emotionally bruising, there’s nothing wrong with taking a break or finding a different avenue for entertainment. But blaming a boogeyman for something that’s a simple fact of how gambling works isn’t solving problems and yielding solutions to the issue. It’s certainly giving me fodder to write about, but it’s also one of the more difficult parts of the job.

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