Who’s Responsible For Responsible Gambling?

The current debate about responsible gambling (RG) focuses on individual consumer accountability versus the responsibility of gaming operators to make the use of their product “safe.” Three of the leading scientists on RG issues published a commentary on this topic, “Moving away from individual responsibility: A comment,” which defends their seminal article on the Reno Model (Blaszczynski et al., 2004) and addresses the question of personal responsibility.

Howard Shaffer, Robert Ladouceur and Alex Blaszczynsi published “A Science-Based Framework for Responsible Gambling: The Reno Model” in 2004. This model sought to shape the direction of RG initiatives and stimulate a dialogue about RG initiatives and concepts. A main component of this model is the “Individual versus Industry Responsibility” part, in which the authors argue that the ultimate choice to gamble resides within individuals, but they must have the opportunity to be informed about gambling harms and negative consequences. Overall, they emphasize the need for all key stakeholders to come together to define and coordinate efforts to satisfactorily inform individuals about the risks of gambling and where to seek help.

In recent years, critics of the Reno Model have argued that it overemphasizes the role of personal responsibility and ignores the social settings in which gamblers operate. In response, Shaffer and Ladouceur published a commentary in theJournal of Gambling Studies(Shaffer & Ladouceur, 2021). They argue that this shift in perspective disproportionately attributes gambling harms to the enviornment and minimizes the personal responsibility that comes along with gambling responsibly. They emphasize that personal responsibility is a vital component to understanding both addiction itself and the use of many psychological models for treatment of gambling disorder. Additionally, they attempt to explain the possible reasoning behind this shift away from personal responsibility.

First, the authors address the issues related to responsible gambling by explaining that as a result of the overarching failure to distinguish between stakeholder’s roles and accountability when it comes to protecting consumers, the term “responsible gambling” has yet to be defined and understood adequately. The presentation, or “definition” of RG varies among stakeholders and causes many critics to question whether it is even a valid construct. As a result of this confusion, many have begun to shift away from the notion of personal responsibility. The authors emphasize that social setting can only do so much to push an individual towards gambling responsibly, and the ultimate decision to gamble still resides within the individual.

Movement away from Individual Responsibility

Next, this commentary tackles the movement away from personal responsibility itself. The authors comment that although there is considerable value in studying social settings and it’s influence on choice when it comes to gambling, personal choice must be considered as well. They claim that with total freedom comes total personal responsibility and the fear of this is driving a social movement that prefers to blame social settings.

The Reno Model

This commentary next touches upon how gambling industry critics have recently suggested that the Reno Model places too much emphasis on individual accountability. These critics see the responsibility as all-or-nothing, and that it must all lie with the social setting, or all must lie with the individual. The authors reference the Reno Model and how they charge all stakeholders with responsibility: consumers, operators, health services, community groups, government and related agencies. In short, the Reno Model does not place sole responsibility on the individual. It emphasizes that all involved stakeholders must work together.

Psychological Models

The authors next explain how the movement away from personal responsibility affects psychological models that have been studied for years and relate directly to addictive behaviors. The first model is self-efficacy. Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief that they are able to execute a certain behavior. Therefore, if a person attributes his/her behaviors to external influences and does not see his/her personal capacity to change an excessive behavior, the ability to modify negative behaviors is jeopardized. The second model is the Locus of Control. Locus of Control is the perception of control that an individual has over their behaviors. Those that are able to look within themselves and understand how their actions and performance influence consequences often see positive impacts, compared to those that attribute control to external factors.

Explaining Moving away from Individual Responsibility

The authors of this commentary again emphasize that no one factor is the cause of excessive gambling, and that to assign blame to one thing such as social setting would be short-sighted. Possible reasons that critics are moving away from personal responsibility include the following. Critics of the gambling industry may be using this viewpoint simply to blame the industry for all ails involved with gambling. Second, anti-gambling lobbyists could be purposely shaping the evidence into a viewpoint that makes it easier to blame the gambling industry for all gambling harms. Third, critics of the use of “responsible gambling” have misinterpreted the Reno model to claim that it unfairly puts all blame on the individual. Finally, critics that have adopted an all-or-nothing attitude have shifted away from personal responsibility, because they do not see that there is a balance between environment and individual responsibility.


The authors conclude their commentary with the following: “When individual responsibility is minimized and the social setting exaggerated, we have established a formula for social chaos. To avoid this circumstance, we must… establish a balanced view of gambling and its host, agent, and environment influences” (Shaffer & Ladouceur, 2021, p. 1075).


Blaszczynski, A., Ladouceur, R., & Shaffer, H. J. (2004). A Science-Based Framework for Responsible Gambling: The Reno Model.Journal of Gambling Studies,20(3).

Shaffer, H., & Ladouceur, R. (2021). Moving away from individual responsibility: A comment.Journal of Gambling Studies,37(3), 1071–1078.

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