Operating responsibly

Mike Rothwell

Operators want players to play, because that’s the core of the gaming business – but no operator wants players to end up with a problem. There are several organisations in the UK alone to support problem gamblers, but the front line will always be the casino staff. So just what is Caesars doing to prepare its staff, and how can that impact the bottom line? Mike Rothwell, Managing Director of Caesars Entertainment EMEA, talked to Casino International about the company’s ethos.

Casino International: Caesars approach to responsible gaming, what are you supporting and how has it developed?

Mike Rothwell: The casino sector generally has done a pretty good job on leading on responsible gaming and social responsibility, so if you look at the Playing Safe initiative which sets out the principles casinos will follow in promoting responsible gaming, it’s built around caring for customers which is of course the right thing to do. But it’s also about building confidence for regulators, government, customers and various other stakeholders.

How? It’s quite straightforward again – training, research, education, Charge 21, self-exclusion, test purchasing; a key part of what came out of this was the SENSE program, which is Self-Enrolment National Self-Exclusion. Caesars was one of the key operators driving that, certainly with the strong support of the National Casino Forum and other casino operators. What SENSE does is, allows a customer that is having problems with their gambling to self-exclude and that can be from one property, or it can be nationally. That’s a big benefit because we have noticed in the past that problem gamblers do have certain behaviours that make them more susceptible to addiction, for example. If they have a bad example in one casino, they may just go to the one nextdoor which doesn’t help them, and it doesn’t help the casino sector. So SENSE was a big deal, launching in August 2015 on the back of the Playing Safe program which itself launched in 2013. Since its launch, if my numbers are correct, around 6300 people have joined the SENSE program and worked through it.

It’s worth noting that in the context of casino visitation in the UK that is an incredibly small number; it’s fair to say that because of the processes and procedures in casinos, the prevalence of problem gambling tends to be lower than other sectors, where there is less opportunity for intervention in a less supervised environment. Caesars has enrolled roughly 940 people into the SENSE program so we are quite proactive, with a slightly higher percentage than the average by number of casinos. It’s worked well for us. In the wider context of social responsibility, it goes without saying that you put the consumer at the heart of your decision-making; customers are key and without their confidence we do not have a business.

From my perspective there are three ways of looking at social responsibility and they all align. I don’t know if all businesses think this way but I think they should. They are: employer perspective, regulator and government perspective, then finally the economic perspective. The employer perspective is important because we operate in a sector which does have the opportunity to create risk for customers; the pub sector is similar, in that if people consume too much of that product it can be bad for them. We want to run our business right and to be seen to be responsible about the way we do it, and then we can attract the best talent to work for us, and we can motivate them and get the best results. We can only do that if those people believe and understand that we apply ethical principles to the way we operate our business, with integrity. It’s very important to us and we do a lot of training to support that. I do think we have good teams and if our reputation was not as good, we would not be able to recruit such good people; and those people would not be so motivated in their roles. I think it’s important to have pride in what you do.

The second bit, regulator and government is obviously key. You know what this business is like, we need regulatory reform, we can’t operate a casino with only 20 slot machines, especially when you look at that in the context of international norms. We need a change and while the 2005 Act went some way toward doing that, it’s not really been a success and it’s taken too long. That change needs to happen, and for that to happen we need the regulator on-side, and the government. To make it work they have to believe that we can be trusted to run our businesses properly. The Gambling Commission is not worried about the economics of our business, they are solely worried about consumer protection. So we also have to put that consumer right at the heart of our thought process as well and think how do we look after them, and act responsibly; and if we don’t do that we can’t be seen to be running our business properly and I do not think we could expect regulatory reform. To make that work the tone from the top has to be exactly right. In my role, for example I have to be actively promoting responsible gaming, saying it’s important for our business and I sincerely believe that it is. It underpins pretty much everything we do and without that tone from the top we will struggle to win the reform that we need. Where some operators struggle is the economic side of things, the last perspective. People wrongly think there is an opposite link between compliance, responsibility and profit – so if I’m a very compliant business, I will exclude all of my customers and make less money. I don’t subscribe to that view, I think the reality is quite the reverse. For example, thinking about the lifetime value of a customer, say you were a customer who could afford to spend £1000 a month at a casino, on leisure etc. So you visit a casino and in that single visit, you lose your £1000 and go to get more money from your pocket and buy in again and again, and end up losing £5000 that night. We’ll never see you again, you’ll hate us, and you’ll tell everybody how awful casinos are and why they should never visit one. So we lose potential customers, we lose you as a customer, and your lifetime value to us is £5000.

Scenario two is, you can afford to spend £1000 a month on leisure and entertainment. You come in and spend £500, some on gambling, some on food and beverage; you have a really good time, it’s well within your limit, and you come back next month, and each month a casino night out becomes part of your entertainment spend and so every month we get £500 from you. Your annual value to us is £6000, and if you do that for ten years, your lifetime value is £60,000 and we have made more than ten times what your value to us could have been, simply by keeping you happy, looking after you well, and you also tell everybody how good we are. The economics are very much aligned with responsible gaming as well. In my view, not only is it the right thing to do, there is absolutely no reason not to do it!

CI: There are facets of gaming where companies and staff are not accepting their responsibilities in this way… What do Caesars staff do that is so different? How do you get your staff to invest in this and to be consistent, to remain aware?

MR: The key thing with getting the right behaviour from our employees is to train them. We say look, this is what problem gambling looks like, this is the effect it has on people and these are the behaviours you might see from someone that potentially has problem gambling issues. It’s difficult if someone doesn’t exhibit any obvious signs of distress but there are other behaviours we train for – he seems very calm but he has bought in four times now, maybe it’s time for a subtle chat; we train employees to look for physical manifestations of behaviour, for signs of distress, things people might say, and buy-in type behaviours. Generally speaking people with problem gambling issues with display some or all of those behaviours. So we train, train, train, train, train – and of course we train the supervisors as well, and then we train the casino managers and the venue directors. Everybody who is licensed, and is an employee that interacts with customers, will have been through and understood that training. We underpin it with the mission values of our company – number one those six values is integrity. We say we will run our business right, be compliant and be ethical. We also have a code of commitment, which is to employees, communities and customers, and that talks about social responsibility, so this is what we are and what we are about. So there is no positive benefit whatsoever for an employee to ignore a customer who is potentially having issues; quite the reverse, because it would be inconsistent with the values and training we are discussing.

CI: Repeat custom comes from great service – look at London, nearly 30 casinos in three square miles, so what separates them? Customer service.

Company values come from the top. L-R: Sarah Robinson, Head of Group Marketing; Tony Boyd, Director of VIP Marketing; Sarah Sculpher, Chief Marketing Officer; Ann Sullivan, Chief Financial Officer

MR: What you have described there underpins our business model entirely. We teach our employees the service-profit chain, which is where if you have happy employees, you have happy customers, and happy shareholders. Hire the best people, motivate and engage them, make them proud to work there and train them well; they give great customer service which we measure, then customers come back again and again instead of going to the competition. It does work – and it’s a simple and nice way to do business.

CI: Caesars also supports the Young Gamblers’ Education Trust, aka YGAM – how does that work? Is it a budget proportion?

MR: YGAM and Gordon Moody are two of the responsible gambling charities we support; we set money aside in budgets, we do fundraising activities in our properties to support them (which also helps with the philosophy that it’s something important to our business)… The reason we have focussed on those two is that we have seen the work they both do directly. Gordon Moody deals with problem gamblers after they have become so, while YGAM is taking a high-risk group (younger people) and educating them before they become problem gamblers, and giving them an idea of what problem gambling looks like and how it can impact your life. I can’t think of anyone better qualified than Lee Willows to be running a business like that because he’s been a problem gambler himself, so he speaks with authenticity and candour, and he is very open about it. He is a great leader of that organisation, he does a great job and brings sincerity to it. We have supported them with financial resources which enables them to recruit people to provide more education; we will continue to do it, it’s a great organisation.

Gordon Moody give residential face-to-face care, education, treatment and more – I have been to the house and witnessed their work, seen how appreciated and successful it is; the commitment from Elaine and the team is amazing, we help fund an additional residential teaching room and provide funding to support ongoing operating costs. We need to do these things for that small proportion of people that become problem gamblers because they need help.