Jeanne David: Being responsible for responsible gaming

Gamble responsibly. The phrase flies around the poker world without most players giving it much thought. That is not the case for Jeanne David, though. It is her job to not only think about those two words, but to explain them and create a responsible gaming program that is accessible to players in every corner of the PokerStars world.

The title of Responsible Gaming Manager for PokerStars is one that Jeanne values. She loves her job, which is no surprise as it perfectly blends her educational and work background with her longtime love of poker.

Jeanne's background includes a Master's Degree in Social Work with a specialty in addiction, and 15 years as a licensed and practicing social worker in New York City. She ran the largest residential substance abuse program in the South Bronx. Parolees from Rikers Island previously convicted of a crime that involved a drug problem came to her facility to utilize the program for 90 days; many of her residents had dual diagnoses or were on psychotropic medications. It was a tough job.

Poker dates back much further with Jeanne, as her grandfather taught her to play 7-Card Stud at the age of seven. "That was the end of me," she joked. She took her love of poker to the casinos in the early 1990s and to the online tables at PokerStars when they launched in 2001. It was her passion.

There was a day that poker and social work clashed, in a way. She recalled it clearly: "I remember two kids coming into my office and saying, 'We really wanted to leave last night and get high. We don't know what to do.' And all I could think was, 'Dammit, if I would've just raised and three-bet those pocket kings, I probably could've won the tournament last night.' That's when I knew I had to get out of there. It was time for a change."

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At the age of 50, she quit her job, sold her house and belongings, and packed her car to drive across the country with the goal of ending up in Las Vegas. She already owned a condo in Sin City for investment purposes, but on the way, she spent two months visiting every casino she could find across the greater United States. Upon arriving in Vegas, she spent eight months working as Director of Administrative Services for WestCare, a substance abuse and mental health program, but she began to feel the same sense of unhappiness as in New York.

That's when the UIGEA law passed in the U.S., and PokerStars stayed but with a renewed sense of the importance of responsible gaming. The wheels began to turn, and poker mentor and friend Lee Jones mentioned a PokerStars job opportunity - move to the Isle of Man and head up the new responsible gaming efforts. Without even knowing exactly where the Isle of Man was located, she jumped. That led to a trip to the Isle and personal interview with company founder Isai Scheinberg."He wanted to know what I knew about his company, and I told him I had been playing on PokerStars since it launched in 2001. I don't think I ever missed a day. He then asked me if I had a gambling problem!" she laughed. "I jokingly said I probably did, and he asked when I could start work."

Again, Jeanne found herself packing up her life and moving, that time to the Isle of Man for what was supposed to be six months but turned into three and a half years. Her first goal was to get certified by GamCare, a responsible gaming organization in the UK, but she had to start with putting procedures in place for PokerStars to not only embrace but practice responsible gaming. One year later, she hired someone to assist her, and she eventually moved back to Nevada to work from her home. Currently, she manages a team of five people - in Las Vegas, Dublin, Costa Rica, Germany, and Australia - to provide 24-hour coverage to the program.

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"Drugs, alcohol, and gambling go hand in hand," Jeanne said. "There is no single addiction. Usually, if someone starts to develop a gambling addiction, they're doing something else."

It is all a part of the job that she classifies as interesting. She and her team handle hundreds of thousands of people who exclude themselves on PokerStars every year. Self-exclusion is the ability to ban oneself from playing for a particular period of time, which can be done by selecting "Requests" from the main PokerStars lobby, then "Responsible Gaming" and "Exclude me from playing." It can be done for 12 or 24 hours, which is called "taking a break," or for seven days or 30/60/120/180 days. There is also a six-month self-exclusion or one that is permanent.

"There are college kids telling us that they are going out drinking and don't want to come back late at night and lose all of their money," Jeanne told us. "That's responsible gaming." She continued, "There are also people who email us and ask never to have access to PokerStars again because of an addiction. We oblige, and no matter when they may return and ask for a reversal, I won't do it. For people who are truly addicted, it's devastating."

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There are those "heart-wrenching" stories, as she calls them, but that is a small part of the PokerStars experience. "We have millions of players - tens of millions, actually - and I like to think that everyone is out there having fun and playing for entertainment. That is true for the huge majority of them, and for the others, I'm just glad we have a lot of resources to help them through the tough times," she said.

Jeanne has many solutions for people, including Gam-Anon for spouses and family members. There are organizations around the world that help with responsible gaming needs. PokerStars has 26 language specialists and contacts in every country to assist with players in need. There are the occasional suicide threats as well. There are about 60 per month, though 99.99 percent of those cases involve comments like, "If you deal me another bad hand, I'm going to kill myself." Every threat is taken seriously, but most of them are easily resolved. And because of their vigilance, there has never been a reported suicide from gambling.

And women? "There are only a small percentage of women who come to us with gambling problems. For most women, poker is a social experience, which it was - and still is - for me, too."

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Jeanne's job is more than answering emails and managing responsible gaming certifications. Each serious addiction inquiry has the potential to be time-consuming, but each is taken very seriously. She also spends time doing everything from speaking at responsible gaming conferences (as in the picture below from the Netherlands) to distributing funds to help other organizations financially.

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There is also the task of consistently improving the responsible gaming program to cater to the needs of PokerStars players. Players give feedback, which has led to the newest exclusion option of table limits. Players can now exclude themselves from playing a certain limit or request that they not be allowed to move up in limits for a particular amount of time. They can deny themselves the ability to play a specific poker variation or cash game limit, and there are numerous ways they can put exclusions or limits on their deposits.

The hardest part of Jeanne's job is directly tied to the best parts. Being able to help players and give some responsible gaming guidance is the way she gives back to the game she has loved for so many years. Even more, though, she can take situations that she sees and use them as a catalyst for improvement, but identifying a problem for some players and creating a solution. For example, she recently helped implement a new procedure to send information on responsible gaming to players who win big tournaments and see an influx of money into their online accounts.

The job of Responsible Gaming Manager offers a great deal of reward for Jeanne. "There are so many aspects of my job that I absolutely love. Probably the best part is dealing with players directly. The other great thing is giving money to responsible gaming organizations that help people around the world."

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Please visit the Responsible Gaming section of the PokerStars website. There is a great deal of helpful information and an eye-opening insight into the lengths to which PokerStars will go to promote responsible gaming.

Jennifer Newell is a PokerStars freelance contributor.

Jen Newell
@PokerStars in PS Women