"It really does work," says Schellinck. "We've done dozens of major peer-review studies, all public". Two government-run Canadian casinos, he says, used Alert for over seven years as part of a program they called "I Care." When Alert told managers that a customer was showing addictive behavior, a staff member would be dispatched to intervene--for example, to chat in a friendly way with the customer or to counsel them to ease up.
As for the predictive power of Alert, Schellinck uses a barroom analogy: "Let's say you're in a bar, and a person walks up to you slurring their words. They're staggering. They talk too loud. They're behaving badly. You don't need to know how it happened. You just need to see their behaviors."
Any single cue may be meaningless, he says. But taken together, they tell you: this person's drunk. "We examine the behavior of people as they gamble, through their loyalty cards. We analyze that information. Certain behaviors, when in combination, allow us to say, yes, this person is at high risk of becoming an addict or is one right now."
Why don't more casinos use Alert? "We'd hoped they would," says Schellinck. He says some casinos fear the tool will show that some of their best customers are addicts, and that the casino's bottom line will suffer if management intervenes with troubled high-rollers.
Experience, says Schellinck, shows that's not true. "The vast majority of problem gamblers are not big spenders. They're people who are spending $200 a month on their habit but can't afford to do it."