Raising the Stakes
The 2007 meetings of the National Center for Responsible Gambling opened with a town hall forum, held in a vast room in the conference facilities at the back of the Paris casino resort. Howard Shaffer presided over the gathering, whose purpose was to “challenge conventional wisdom” about problem gambling. Some four hundred were in attendance, a group comprising health professionals (24 percent), academic researchers (24 percent), gambling industry members (27 percent), government officials (14 percent), and representatives from other professional areas (11 percent). “It’s good to have all the stakeholders in the same room,” said Shaffer, neglecting to note the relative absence of gamblers.
Conference aides had distributed “Response Innovation” clicker technology at the entrance to the ballroom, and as Shaffer polled us on a number of widely held beliefs—the idea that the spread of legalized gambling leads to a spike in problem gambling, for instance—we pressed small buttons on the handheld devices. Our responses were transmitted, tallied, and posted on a large screen at the front of the room. After each polling, Shaffer invited audience members who represented the position of “conventional wisdom” to speak at the microphone in the center aisle, then promised that their beliefs would be challenged one by one in the upcoming panel sessions.
Some deviated from the format, returning the challenge to Shaffer. A middle-aged man voiced doubt over the industry’s motivation to support