Metro

Compromise seen in helping gamblers limit losses at casinos

The state casino industry and its state regulators on Thursday moved closer to a compromise on providing patrons with a system to help some gamblers limit their losses when playing slot machines.

The casino operators said they were open to a program allowing customers to set their own limits on how much money they would be willing to lose on a particular day. But the operators said they adamantly opposed the idea of rewarding gamblers who adhere to their self-imposed limits with extra free play at a later date.

Representatives of the three casinos testified they are afraid that offering rewards to gamblers for sticking to their limits could unleash unintended consequences counterproductive to responsible gambling.

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Gamblers could purposefully set unrealistically high limits they have no intention of surpassing in order to reap the rewards, the operators said.

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And gamblers who thus “game the system” could end up being rewarded with new gambling opportunities.

“If someone has a problem the worst thing is to give him incentives to come back,” said Robert DeSalvio of Wynn Resorts. “We don’t want to see him back in the casino.”

DeSalivo said he did not object to gamblers voluntarily signing up for a program under which their loyalty cards would be programmed to remind them of their preset limits.

Casino operators and gambling commission members disagreed on how and when customers would get the opportunity to sign on to the program. The operators opposed giving customer the choice of signing up for the limit option when they opened a loyalty account because it could be perceived as a hassle to some of the vast majority of gamblers who bet responsibly.

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Anything perceived by patrons as “difficult, cumbersome, or embarrassing” could prompt them to take their gambling business out of state, DeSalvio said.

Commission members James F. McHugh and Gayle Cameron said the program now envisioned by the commission staff was intended as providing a “budgetary tool” for ordinary gamblers, not as a cure for the small percentage of problem gamblers.

They said it was important for patrons to be able to sign up for the program without feeling stigmatized by being sent to a “problem gambling office.”

The commission is expect to act on the proposal next month.

Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.