WAGER: Addiction & the Humanities – Are video games normalizing addictive behaviors?

WAGER: Addiction & the Humanities – Are video games normalizing addictive behaviors?

Friday, November 20, 2020

Read the original article on The Basis website Here.

By: Karen Amichia

Approximately 155 million Americans play video games – just under half the population of the United States. Video game players are commonly stereotyped as a pre-pubescent or teenage boy who stays up too late on a school night indulging in gameplay. However, the average age of a gamer in the United States is 35, and only 29% of all gamers are younger than 18. Over time, video games have become more and more “adult” themed to match the consumer base. Unfortunately this “adultification” has led to increased presence of alcohol, tobacco, and other substance use and gambling content in video games, all of which are usually related to character development or impact gameplay. The pervasiveness and portrayal of substance use and gambling in video games may have implications for video game industry stakeholders and consumers – especially children.

Video Games & Alcohol
Some prominent video game characters seem particularly inclined to drink, and they drink to excess more often than notGrand Theft AutoRed Dead Redemption, and Sea of Thieves feature prominent characters consuming alcohol excessively. These characters are often unable to control themselves, act belligerent, and are shown stumbling around. Games sometimes mimic the effects of being intoxicated by slowing character movement and blurring the edges of the gameplay screen.

Some video games go so far as to reward gamers for their virtual drinking activity. In the game The Red Strings Club, players are able to use alcohol (e.g., pouring other characters drinks) in order to manipulate other characters’ moods. In other games – FalloutThis War of MinePrey – drinking alcohol can actually give brief boosts to stats (e.g., strength and charisma), make characters less sad, and reduce a player’s fear status to enable better vision and accuracy. Drinking is often central to a character’s personality or superpowers. For example, video games like Stardew ValleyBioshock Infinite, and Firewatch each have main characters who show signs of alcohol use disorders. Mortal Kombat X boasts a character whose entire fighting style is the “drunken master” – his special moves include chugging the drink he carries around, belching, farting, and even vomiting on the opponent.

Alcohol content is common in video games that adolescents play. A study based in the United Kingdom found that 17 of the 32 best-selling video games featured alcohol or tobacco content during gameplay. Sixty percent of adolescents surveyed had played at least one of these games. However, the Pan European Game Information (PEGI) system did not report any alcohol content within the games. The PEGI creates accurate, age-appropriate ratings for video games in Europe and informs consumers about the adult content contained within each game. If the PEGI is failing to accurately report this adult content, more children are able to access it. This is concerning because this study also found that adolescents who played at least one of these games were more likely to have ever used alcohol or tobacco than their peers who had not engaged with any of these games.

Video Games & Tobacco
The tobacco industry has a long history of partnering with video game companies for promotional purposes. Even after the implementation of several restrictions limiting the use of video games as marketing tools for the tobacco industry, there still remain countless depictions of tobacco throughout modern-day video games.

Tobacco use is often an important part of gameplay. For example, Red Dead Redemption 2 includes a scene where a cowboy meets a man smoking a cigarette. The cowboy learns an important objective of the game – he must smoke premium cigarettes in exchange for trading cards (these are in-game markers of progress). He can win the game only when he has smoked enough cigarettes to complete his sets of trading cards. Using tobacco products can also fill the “dead eye” meter which slows down time so the character can make more precise and accurate shots with their weapons. This meter depletes quickly but can be easily refilled by chewing tobacco, or smoking cigars or cigarettes. Other games, like the Metal Gear Solid series and the Bioshock series, include similar tobacco power-ups.

Video games often glamorize tobacco use by depicting characters who use these products as edgy or cool. In terms of functionality, the use of tobacco products tends to focus and steady the character, often boosting the outcomes of their action. It’s easy to imagine that ‘cool’ characters who use tobacco to center and focus themselves will be influential to adolescents. Adolescents who play video games are more likely to have tried alcohol and tobacco products than those who do not. This is particularly concerning as a 2015 survey from the University of California San Francisco found that 42% of video games played by the study participants contained tobacco-related content. However, only 8% of those games received tobacco warnings from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) – the American version of the PEGI. This is another example of the rating system failing to accurately detect and warn consumers about the adult-themed content found in video games.

Video Games & Other Substances
It may be surprising (or not surprising at this point) to learn that video games have been making implicit and explicit references to illicit substances almost since their conception. Miyamoto, the game designer for Nintendo, deliberately chose a mushroom as Mario’s power-up in reference to psychedelics. The world of Mario is a fantasy land that you can only get into and remain in by constant ingestion of these mushrooms. Similarly, the creator of Pac-Man refers to the dots that Pac-Man eats as “power pills.”

Sei-bS46IAXWAO4-unsplashArchstone Behavioral Health completed a study examining the top 100 best-selling games per gaming console and analyzed each ESRB rating for substance use in order to investigate the types of drug use present per game. They found that 61% of games featured real drugs (e.g., cocaine, heroin, marijuana) and 38% featured fictional drugs found in-game only. Forty percent of the games featured drugs that caused the user to become disoriented in some way. However, ingesting these substances also had benefits. Thirty-two percent of drugs boosted a character’s power and 28% actually increased the character’s health. Nearly a quarter of the video games featured multiple drugs – most of them stimulants to stay awake, gain energy and get high. These tended to also be extremely addictive.

It’s interesting to note that outside of medicinal uses or energy boosts, drugs and the characters who use them are often portrayed as ‘shady.’ Characters who use or sell substances in video games are not as popular as those who use tobacco products. Drug purchasing and use is often reserved for the unsavory or criminal characters in the game’s storyline (e.g., The Elder ScrollFallout). In these games, drugs are often vague, untitled substances that are traded by criminals. This poses some interesting questions to gamemakers: what makes tobacco cool and edgy? Why are drugs used by criminals and ‘shady’ characters?

Unfortunately, the portrayal of other substances in video games and its impact on adolescents has yet to be researched in depth. But, research about alcohol and tobacco content in video games suggests that the portrayal of other substances might be related to use initiation in adolescents.

Video Games & Gambling
Gambling in video games has become a hot topic in recent years, especially following the introduction of loot boxes during gameplay. Loot boxes can be purchased with real-world money. Their randomized contents usually benefit the player (e.g., boost the gamer’s character or skills) and aid in gameplay. Games like NBA 2k20 have taken loot boxes a step further to include other gambling-like features, such as slot machines, pachinko machines, and a wheel of fortune. There are concerns that the loot boxes and other gambling-like features found in video games may lead to problem gambling among gamers. A survey of over 7,000 video game players found an association between problem gambling severity and money spent on loot boxes. Players with more severe problem gambling spent more money on loot boxes. Other gambling-like video game features (e.g., token wagering, real-money gaming, and social casino spending) are also linked to problem gambling.

In addition to loot boxes, there are concerns over the use of skins in video games. Skins are items that a player can win during the game, such as weapons, outfits, or particular football players. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, a popular video game, drew attention from the UK Gambling Commission in recent years after game developers added weapon skins to the game. These skins allowed players to win customizations for their weapons. The random nature and rarity of skin drops made them valuable and they became a form of currency within the game.

As Global Offensive grew in popularity as an e-sport with professional players and teams, so did sites like the Steam Marketplace. Here, consumers can gamble on the outcome of matches and use their skin inventory to place bets. European law only bans cash-betting on e-sports, so these actions are not legally classified as gambling. Gamemakers exploited this legal loophole that has allowed consumers – including children and adolescents – to participate in gambling-like activities. Loot boxes, skins, and other gambling-like activities found in video games have become normalized and may increase the likelihood of young players developing problem gambling or experiencing gambling-related harms.

Video games are a popular form of media and entertainment in the United States and many parts of the world. Drinking, smoking, using other drugs, and gambling have become common content within video games and are often directly linked to character development and gameplay. However, video game review boards like the ESRB and PEGI are not accurately identifying and reporting this adult content. The presence of this content has been shown to increase the likelihood of initiation and problematic behavior in consumers, especially among children. It is essential that review boards ensure that their content warnings are correctly identifying the presence of substances and gambling in games. Educational campaigns should consider targeting gamers, like the Truth Initiative’s anti-tobacco ads on Twitch streams. Parents should take an active role in checking the content of the video games used by their children.

— Karen Amichia

NFL Launches  Comprehensive Responsible Betting Education and Awareness Initiative

NFL Launches Comprehensive Responsible Betting Education and Awareness Initiative

The National Football League (NFL) will be launching an extensive, integrated league-wide responsible betting public awareness program designed to educate fans who choose to engage in sports betting to do so responsibly. The key message encourages people to play responsibly by sticking to a game plan, including setting a budget to know their limits, using licensed, regulated operators, and asking for help if they need it. The core message of the campaign’s creative is “Stick to Your Game Plan. Always Bet Responsibly.”

As part of this initiative, the NFL has made a multimillion-dollar, multi-year commitment to significantly expand its long-standing partnership with the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG). The NFL’s funding will enable the NCPG to launch a national grant program to fund enhanced services offered by local and statewide providers, as well as innovative prevention programs, including expansion of youth-facing curricula. The league’s support will also transform the national problem gambling helpline system and allow for the development of improved communications tools, including a new website, www.responsibleplay.org, that will provide the public with quick tips about betting safely and support resources for those in need.

“The National Council on Problem Gambling is pleased to partner with the NFL to shine a light on the importance of responsible betting,” says Keith Whyte, executive director of the NCPG. “With this partnership, we are able to exponentially enhance the NCPG’s ability to provide advocacy, awareness and assistance on problem gambling. The NFL’s far-reaching initiative demonstrates its strong commitment to being an industry leader in raising awareness. The league’s support of our advocacy efforts will help fund new communications initiatives, such as ResponsiblePlay.org and a PSA about problem gambling, expand gambling prevention services where they are most needed, and modernize our National Problem Gambling Helpline operations with updated capabilities.”

The NFL is providing support to upgrade the National Problem Gambling Helpline system by raising criteria, improving call center technology, data collection, reporting, training and certification. A national helpline is crucial for prevention and safety, as well as connecting callers automatically with the appropriate state call center.

In addition to supporting impactful programs such as the helpline, NFL contributions will provide a wide range of additional benefits, including:   

• Critical investment in the foundation of a national safety net to prevent gambling addiction.

• Providing agility grants to state NCPG affiliates, nonprofits or other community organizations that can implement innovative problem gambling prevention programs in their local communities.

• Ongoing initiatives such as the league’s awareness and education marketing campaign to help fans and the public understand and use responsible betting techniques, and know where to get help.

What’s In a Name: Might the Renaming of Massachusetts’ Council Be the Way of the Future?

What’s In a Name: Might the Renaming of Massachusetts’ Council Be the Way of the Future?

In September, after nearly 40 years, the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling (MCCG) changed its name to the Massachusetts Council on Gaming and Health (MACGH). Northern Light discussed this change and its implications with Marlene Warner, executive director of MAGH.

Q: Why was the organization renamed?


bio photo of massachusetts council on gaming and health

Marlene Warner

A: We started talking about this around four years ago. For starters, the term “compulsive gambling” was antiquated. We also became involved with GameSense, which meant we were more focused on the full spectrum from prevention to recovery rather than just intervention. We also heard increasingly from people at casinos and on social media, helplines, etc., about the blurring of lines between gaming and gambling. Since iGaming takes place on the casino floor it made sense to talk about “gaming,” which is more of an all-encompassing term. The “health” aspect of our name reflects that we do more than just intervention — we also want to look at the larger public health implications. The intention of the name is to not only expand our mission but also to designate what we’re truly doing as an organization.


Q: Was there a tipping point in the decision to change the name?


A: It was a gradual thing but in the last two years as we’ve realized the blurred lines between gaming and gambling, so have gaming commissions. Congress has even held hearings on gaming. It became clear to us that this was the next wave and we didn’t want to miss it.


Q: What has the response been to the name change?


A: For the most part, everyone has been incredibly supportive. They thought it was appropriate and future-focused.


Q: Have you made any changes to your training since the name change?


A: The very first thing we did was to work on a certificate program and clinical training program to broaden counselor and clinician knowledge of video gaming in a clinical setting. We want to make sure they’ve been prepared so that when someone presents with a gaming problem, they know how to respond.


Q: How is Massachusetts handing gaming disorder? Are counselors encouraged to take the INTENTA training? (INTENTA is the first approved training provider for the new International Gaming Disorder Certificate (IGDC) by the International Gambling Counselor Certification Board).


A: The training that we’re putting together is sort of a competitor to INTENTA. It’s another option that is a little shorter and less expensive. We are collaborating with the Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling and the course is called Foundations in Gaming Disorder. As with INTENTA, it will qualify for international board certification.


Q: Do you plan to measure the impact of the name change, whether through changed attitudes or diminished stigma around gambling disorder?


A: For now, we’re just collecting anecdotal feedback. But a year from now, we’ll want to know we’ve done the right thing. I think we’re gaining a lot of traction. We’re also in the process of putting together a major national study with gambling and gaming stakeholders with major universities. That, alone, has been well received.


Q: Do you think other state councils will make similar name changes?


A: Several fellow state councils have asked us how to do it. Many of us were trained on the idea of calling it “gambling” rather than “gaming” so it takes some fresh thinking. It’s not a change to be done lightly.

NCPG Conference Roundup

NCPG Conference Roundup

I (virtually) attended the annual conference of the National Council on Problem Gambling in July. Here is a recap of some of the presentations. – Susan Sheridan Tucker

Industry Trends

The conference featured a considerable focus on responsible gambling, particularly in light of the expansion of gambling. This includes sports betting and igaming, along with esports and the continued blurring of lines between gambling and video gaming.

Operators, regulators and players are all part of the multichannel platform growth. Technology and an apparent pent-up demand for wagering have hastened the need for increased legalization and regulatory rules that address the desire for operators to make a profit, for states to collect revenue and, most importantly, to protect consumers with comprehensive responsible gambling tools. In Minnesota, no new legislation has passed yet, but it’s just a matter of time. It will be critically important to ensure the legislative language provides for funds to cover prevention, treatment and research, and to insist on best regulatory practices and sharing the aggregate data with the state.

COVID-19 has presented financial challenges to operators and states, who have already seen profits and tax revenues plummet due to brick and mortar closings and the tanking of other sectors of the economy. For the few states that had already passed online gambling legislation, the transition from land-based to online sites was fairly smooth. Early indications show that existing customers and new ones found and used the online alternatives. However, in states without legalized online gambling, players were lured to offshore, unregulated sites which present a myriad of unethical practices; this is one of the arguments for legalizing more forms of gambling. Several states are not only jumping to pass sports betting, but also igaming so they can create an omni-channel market for consumers. If land-based casinos need to shut down for a pandemic or natural disaster, operators can continue to offer their products to customers online, reducing the hit on profits and state tax revenue.

Another trend that’s emerging internationally and creeping into the U.S. is a move to go cashless. The industry prefers this because it minimizes the amount of cash they need to secure on the premises, more consumers are accustomed to using less cash and, with COVID-19, eliminating handling of cash is more sanitary. Cashless systems present opportunities to closely monitor customers’ playing habits and to build in responsible gambling tools during play that may deter players from taking too much risk. However, there are also disadvantages with cashless systems. The availability of on-demand access to digital payments means consumers may increase their spending beyond their means. These new systems also shift more risk to the player and remove protective factors, such as the need to pause the game to replenish cash. If cashless systems are to be adopted, specific consumer protections must be part of the plan.

Some operators are beginning to realize they have a greater responsibility to identify problem gamblers and to talk with them when gambling patterns indicate troubling behavior. In some European casinos, operators are using data to have conversations with players about the risks they’re taking and recommending they take a break, discussing self-exclusion or suggesting they seek help from a professional. The NCPG has developed Guidelines for Payment Processing as a guide to the industry as they begin to adopt these tools and minimize the incidence of gambling addiction.

Generation Z

Those working to prevent gambling disorder need to be aware of the generational characteristics of Generation Z, which consists of people born between 1997 and 2017. This is the first genuine digital generation and is redefining what “winning” means. For this generation, a win equates to a good experience, engagement and bragging rights, but not necessarily winning money. They enjoy games of skill, not chance. It’s expected that esports will explode with this generation because it’s popular with both males and females.

The exposure to online gaming and apparent attraction to “trying out” a game — plus the strategic use of game bonuses — are considered a priming of the pump for gambling once these players are in a position to spend money.

This is a generation that creates and follows influencers – not necessarily the traditional influencers, such as sports figures or Hollywood personalities. Innovative social media (not Facebook) apps rule the way they communicate and, like most generations, they have created their own style of communication that is vastly different than past generations.

Relevant responsible gambling materials/prevention need to reflect this rising generation, educating them early on about potential risks in gaming/gambling.

Why Responsible Gambling Programs Are Essential

Ultimately, responsible gambling programs make good business sense. While the gambling industry seeks to provide an entertaining experience for all who partake, some are clearly unable to do so without causing significant harm to themselves and their loved ones. By adopting robust responsible gambling programs, the industry plays its role in keeping all players healthy, helping to flag issues before customers crash.

Properly designed, a responsible gambling program extends to the regulator, operator, its staff and the player. This shared responsibility helps combat the stigma of gambling disorder that blames the player and leaves them struggling in isolation.

Responsible gambling programs:

  1. acknowledge the risks up front,
  2. provide the rules and odds of each game,
  3. incorporate intervention tools that enable a player to pause and reset, and
  4. create a mutually beneficial and nonjudgmental relationship to ensure a player’s experience is positive.

The purpose of responsible gambling programs is to create opportunities for safer sustained play. This requires a multi-pronged approach involving understanding the needs of players (from new players to serious players to those who appear in trouble), producing positive messages that invite open discussion of prevention, making materials readily available and knowing when to deliver messaging and/or other resources to a troubled player. A robust responsible gambling program also helps gaming staff enjoy their jobs because it offers them more tools to assist and it builds empathy for their customers.

Ultimately, a responsible gambling program requires a commitment from top leadership with an understanding of the long-term benefit. It also requires regulatory bodies be willing to insist on best practices and enforcement when needed.

Racism in Gambling Disorder/Healthcare

Each day of the conference, a small segment was dedicated to reminding attendees that systemic racism exists in the problem gambling arena, as it does in so many other aspects of our healthcare and economic systems.

Some statistics:

  • Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) experience gambling disorder at twice the rate of whites.
  • Generational trauma is real, and quite apparent in the African American community.
  • Blacks represent 13.4% of the U.S. population, but very few are seeking treatment due to roadblocks, such as mistrust of the system, shame, privacy issues, lack of information and financial concerns.
  • COVID-19 has clearly shown that BIPOC are more vulnerable and experience more serious symptoms due to the lack of access to good healthcare throughout their lives.

NCPG has formed a Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee that advises on issues affecting the Black community, additional communities of color and other marginalized groups. We expect there will be recommendations made in time.

(As a side note, NPGA is reexamining all of its collateral material to ensure it reflects Minnesota’s diversity. In the past year, we have made a concerted effort to portray that diversity in our public service announcements.)

Call For One National Problem Gambling Helpline

NCPG is appealing to states to join its national gambling helpline. Twenty-two states have separate problem gambling helplines, in addition to the national number used by NCPG. These helplines were established over the decades for various reasons. The question is whether it makes sense for each of these states to have separate numbers. Minnesota has its own helpline, which is managed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services and operated through a contractor. While there would be costs with transitioning to a national number — including changing printed and online materials —there are advantages to having one number. A single helpline provides centralized data collection and the assurance that training is consistent and meets best practices.

Oregon Core Competencies For Treatment Providers

In Oregon, a public health authority teamed up with researchers at Lewis & Clark College to develop new guidelines for gambling counselors. The publication, A Guide to Core Competencies for Problem Gambling Treatment Counselors, was created over the course of a year through surveys conducted across the country and the world to compile best practices in treatment counseling.

After consultation with advanced problem gambling counselors, a total of 166 core competencies were identified. These competencies were organized around five primary domains:

  1. knowledge of problem gambling
  2. psychoeducation
  3. basic problem gambling treatment skills
  4. case management and ethical practice and
  5. sociocultural awareness and competence.

The full report can be found on our website at NorthstarPG.org under Professional Resources. The state of Oregon intends to use this document as a way to improve the training it provides to gambling counselors.

Minnesota Gambling Control Board Plays Critical Role in State Gambling

Minnesota Gambling Control Board Plays Critical Role in State Gambling

The Minnesota Gambling Control Board plays a critical role in regulating gambling activity in Minnesota. Northern Light conducted the following Q&A with Matt Gettman, the agency’s executive director.

Q: What is the primary role of the Minnesota Gambling Control Board (MGCB)?
A: Our role is to regulate the lawful (charitable) gambling industry to ensure the integrity of operations (games) and provide for the lawful use of net profits (where the dollars go). There are a lot of moving parts with a lot of different stakeholders with potentially conflicting interests.

Q: Who are MGCB’s stakeholders?
A: Our stakeholders haven’t changed much over time. Licensees, the organizations that purchase gambling licenses, make up a large number of the stakeholders. Licensees include the manufacturer and distributor as well as the organizations. Other stakeholders include those we don’t license, such as the owners and managers of the premise permit locations (where the gambling activity takes place). Other stakeholders include bookkeepers and the accounting firms who assist licensees in determining where the dollars go.

State agencies are also stakeholders, such as the Minnesota Department of Revenue and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. There are also local agencies, such as city councils, city clerks, city financial officers and planning commissions. We also deal with the associations that represent those groups, such as the League of Minnesota Cities. Stakeholders also include the targeted beneficiaries of the net profits from the lawful charitable gambling.

The last group of stakeholders includes the players, the public and even the non-players who are affected by the gambling taking place. This includes NPGA. We’re all part of the community in which this activity is occurring.

Q: What work are you doing related to COVID-19?
A: With mandates and protections for social distancing, there’s been a need to figure out how businesses can conduct their businesses without exposing or further exacerbating the virus issues. That includes not having bar service. So people who order drinks sometimes aren’t actually going to the bar counter. They may be seated in a parking lot that might not be owned by the establishment.
Beyond the immediate COVID issues, we’re always looking to improve the safeguards, flags and controls — all of which ensure integrity of playing games and use of the proceeds. We’re also involved in outreach and education so that all of our stakeholders, such as Northstar, are educated.

Q: What changes might take place because of the prolonged COVID-19 closings or reduced capacity in bars and taverns?
A: The impact has been as these establishments — these licensees —have restarted lawful gambling each deals with its own unique impact and, in some cases, additional local restrictions imposed by local municipalities.
For our part, we used the time of closures to take the initiative to do additional checks and audits we could never have done in the past. This has allowed us to identify organizations that were not properly accounting for funds or otherwise not supporting the integrity of lawful gambling.

Q: We’ve heard that sales for electronic pull tabs are going through the roof, but paper pull tabs are not. Do you have any idea why this is the case? Is there a perception that they’re somehow cleaner?
A: Social interaction and the desire to support local community causes has historically driven the paper games. The restricted number of people has, most likely, in turn impacted total sales. However, at this time, we have no data to support any conclusion.

Q: It seems that there’s a move in the U.S. toward cashless casinos. Do you foresee a time when credit cards will be allowed to purchase pull tabs? If not, why?
A: We don’t have the authority to allow the use of credit cards. That would require a statutory change by the state legislature. I don’t see this changing any time soon. However, when we reach that point of allowing the use of electronic means for gambling purchases, we will also have the ability to support self-imposed limits on those electronic accounts for problem gamblers.

Q: Do you foresee electronic pull tabs replacing paper altogether?
A: No, I don’t. They cater to two different game players. The ones historically playing paper see it as part of their social activities – collectively opening a pool of paper pull tabs in one social setting. However, because of the nature of electronic pull tabs, which are played by only one person at a time even when part of the same social circle, there’s a different social dynamic. Both forms of lawful gambling appear to be staging a strong recovery after the COVID pause, and neither appears to be replacing the other.

Q: Once the debt service is paid off for the Vikings stadium through electronic pull tabs, does the portion set aside for problem gambling services go away as well? Is there a specific sunset built into the legislation?
A: The MGCB has no stake in where dollars raised from charitable gambling go. Those directives are made by legislative mandate. There is no sunset provision for the funding of problem gambling services and it is not tied to the debt service for the Vikings stadium.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share about MGCB?
A: We’re trying to find more opportunities to engage with various shareholders. We’re happy to hear from anyone with ideas on how we can help educate folks in their respective circles and help them reach their respective objective. At the end of day we are one community.

Canterbury Park Reopens with Hope and Caution

Canterbury Park Reopens with Hope and Caution

After shutting down for nearly three months, the Canterbury Park Card Casino opened in mid-June — with equal amounts of caution and hope.

“We’re as well prepared as we can be,” says Michael Hochman, Vice President of Casino Operations at Canterbury Park. “Everyone is doing everything they can to make sure our gaming floor is as safe as possible for both employees and guests.”

Those safety precautions include health screenings, social distancing, frequent cleaning, acrylic barriers, sanitizer stations positioned throughout the property, and mandatory mask requirements. Even game chips are sanitized with ultraviolet light every day.

“Some casino floors are ‘strongly encouraging’ mask usage at their tables, but we’re actually requiring it,” says Michael, who was initially concerned about how guests would respond to mask requirements but found that it hasn’t been a problem.

And what are Canterbury Park’s business prospects going forward as the pandemic persists? “It’s hard to say, as we’re still getting a feel for how behaviors might change and how comfortable people are in social situations,” says Michael. “We do know that while we’re somewhat stymied through the use of plexiglass and masks, people still love the social aspects — and that’s what we do.”

Given that the highest risk of unfavorable outcomes with COVID-19 is with older adults, Canterbury Park anticipates there may be a drop in attendance from guests in that demographic.

Ultimately, however, uncertainty is the operative word. “There was never a chapter on conducting business during pandemics,” says Michael.

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