No Good Deed Dilemma: Responsible Gaming ... Really?

The Dilemma du Jour:

I was very excited to be offered a great community relations job at a casino until a close friend reminded me of the dark side of that industry. While it’s true these government-supervised organizations give a lot of money to the communities in which they operate and pour funds into our tax coffers, it’s also true that gambling ruins a lot of lives. My friend’s family lost their home and he had to quit college when his father’s gambling habit drove them into bankruptcy and divorce. It’s hard to dismiss the recent investigations of money laundering, too.

I am very tempted to take this job, which offers me significantly more money and opportunity than my current role, but I’m not sure I can fully embrace the philosophy of responsible gaming.Should I ignore my qualms and just concentrate on the good that can be done with the money generated?

Signed, Maybe Not a Betting Person

Dear Maybe Not,

From reading your letter, I believe what you’re really asking is for permission to accept this job with your conscience intact. From where I sit, you have it.

It’s admirable you are considering the deeply negative effects gambling addiction has on some people. However, despite your friend’s dire warning, I don’t believe that equates to painting the entire industry in a negative light. There are a lot of people who look on gaming as nothing more than a bit of fun and a license to dream, in the same way that for many people, a bottle of wine is just a nice addition to the occasional dinner. Alcoholism and prescription drug addiction can also have devastating impacts, yet I wonder if your friend would advise you to turn down a job with a family winery or a pharmaceutical company. Somehow, I doubt it.

When it comes to money laundering, your new position may offer an opportunity to help keep the laundromat’ firmly closed through focused communications efforts. Again, gaming isn’t the only industry similarly involved—it has been well documented that residential real estate was also used to wash the proceeds of criminal activity, and that in turn played a role in the housing affordability crisis. Would this deter you from taking a job in real estate? As you have noted, gaming generates a tremendous amount of funding for BC charities, community groups and schools, to the tune of $140 million each year (based on 2018 data). No other industry I am aware of does that.

You say you were very excited to be offered a great community relations job and are very tempted to take it. It seems clear you have your answer. The reservations you have aren’t from new information. So ask yourself: Are your qualms because you’re truly morally conflicted or because you’re worried others, like your friend, will judge you harshly? If I were a gambling person, I’d bet it’s the latter. If it is, take the job. Just as it would be valid for your friend to decide gambling isn’t an area they’d feel comfortable working in, it’s also valid for you decide that overall, the pros outweigh the cons.

~ Karen McCluskey, APR, Principal, KM Strategic Communications

It certainly takes a healthy amount of gumption to dive feet first into a new position with a company or organization plagued by reputational issues. Good old vice marketing’ has always been a double-edged sword for communications professionals whether it ‘s working for a tobacco, alcohol, gaming or cannabis company. On one hand, you ‘re judged by the company you keep (which includes who you choose to work for). On the other hand, successfully helping a company navigate the murky waters of reputation management to establish or restore its good name in the community is a sure-fire career builder.

The fact that you’re doing some soul searching on the relative merits of responsible gambling at the outset could be a clue the job may not be for you. Bear in mind, though, in any industry beset with image problems there ‘s usually a handful of bad apples that spoil things for the whole bunch. If that ‘s the case, I would encourage you to dig deeper to ascertain where your potential employer falls in the spectrum of rotten fruit.

Start with the management team. Is management realistically addressing the issues at hand by taking concrete steps to mitigate problems, or are they simply whitewashing the whole matter hoping it will go away? It ‘s the role of any PR practitioner to shape responsible corporate behaviour and often this means confronting and challenging leaders who may be running afoul of acceptable corporate practices. How comfortable are you with taking a moral stand if required, and how receptive do you think management will be to constructive criticism?

Also, take a close look at the company ‘s whole approach to corporate communications and the calibre of the communications team you ‘ll be working with. Is the company dedicating sufficient resources to communications or are you expected to operate on a shoestring budget? Does the communications team have the ear of management, and do team members have a track record of effectively managing issues? The bottom line for any new position boils down to: Is this a corporate environment that you can excel in and make a meaningful difference?

Granted, answering these questions isn‘t easy, but it ‘s a worthwhile exercise to go through. Your personal brand and reputation are extremely valuable commodities, so if you find the values of a company or its executives are not consistent with yours, it might be best to stay away. In the end, it ‘s a judgment call and sometimes you have to go with your gut no matter how attractive the compensation package may be.

~ Martin Livingston, Principal, Living Communications Inc.

The tough thing about your situation is that the multiple sides of the issue you’re faced with feel equally valid, and equally weighted, which makes arriving at the right decision infinitely more difficult.

You seem well aware of the pros and cons connected to the gaming industry. Statistics illustrate that a percentage of any population will be attracted to various forms of gambling; for some to the point where it can be problematic, and for a subset of that group, can indeed become an addiction. (Your friend’s father is a perfect example of the worst that can happen.) Yet, responsible gaming organizations channel significant funds straight into provincial coffers. The redistribution of those proceeds support a huge range of worthy organizations, many of which rely on funds from gaming in order to do their work.

It’s also important to note that responsible gaming organizations (including those legislated in B.C.) mount extensive social marketing campaigns, which continually remind perhaps even caution participants not to stray past their comfort zones. While their efforts are well and good, it can be argued they don’t go far enough, or are too little, too late’ for those who develop dangerous gaming habits. In addition to this, the impact of alleged international money laundering at casinos has had a devastating ripple effect, from the opioid crisis to an inflated housing market, and is far from being resolved.

There’s nothing like the excitement and anticipation of taking on a brand-new role, especially one that promises to expand your experience and provide a great paycheque. In return, your new employer will expect you to fulfill your duties to the best of your ability. But one would assume that the job, in community relations, would see you playing a very visible role in support of the casino, with stakeholders of all types. So, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself, honestly, if you are willing and able to walk in to a room, and fully, effectively represent your employer, a casino, if you accept the job. If, in doing so, you feel that you’ll have to ignore your qualms then your gut is telling you that this is not the right position for you, at least, not right now. My advice is: listen up.

~ Jackie Asante, Senior Vice President, FleishmanHillard HighRoad (Vancouver)

About the Author

Deborah Folka, APR, FCPRS, LM, is the editor of the ethics column, No Good Deed. She is also a senior accredited public relations professional with over 25 years of experience in strategic communications planning, issues management and crisis communications planning, prevention and management. In addition to working in-house for a variety of public, private and not-for-profit organizations, she has run one of the most successful independent pr consultancies in Western Canada for over 20 years.