Can the Gambling Industry Do More to Combat Climate Change?
Unless you've been living in a cave or have been stranded on a desert island for the last few years you'll know that climate change is one of the biggest issues - and arguably one of the biggest threats - facing the world today.
But for all the summits and accords, it still seems unbelievably difficult to bring all the world's major powers together to agree on a united strategy which will be effective in creating a cleaner, greener environment. The fact that some of the world's biggest powers effectively deny that there is a problem in the first place is one stumbling block to overcome.
Another is the reluctance of certain industries who are responsible for many of the carbon emissions, directly or indirectly, to put their own houses in order. These are mainly in the construction, manufacturing and mining sectors, but there are others who could also make a major contribution if they looked into changing their practices, too.
One that has hit the headlines recently has been the gambling industry - especially in its global capital, Las Vegas.
The challenge of making Vegas 100% sustainable
Vegas has previously committed to running on 100% renewable energy
There was a considerable amount of excitement recently when it was announced that Vegas was to be run on 100% renewable energy. As somewhere that's renowned for its brilliant light shows so powerful that astronauts can make out the different colours from space, this seemed like quite a claim to make.
It emerged that this was too good to be true. In fact, the news was that all state government buildings, numbering around 140 in total, would be powered by electricity from renewable sources, along with public utilities like street lighting and traffic controls - saving the city $5 million a year.
But in the grand scheme of things, this represents a drop in the ocean. During the peak tourist season of the summer when many of the city's 42 million annual visitors descend and hotel occupancy rates reach well over 90% the daily electricity usage can top 8,000 megawatts - enough energy to power eight million homes.
The casinos - with their lavish light displays, power-sapping water displays and 24-hour business operations - account for a great deal of this consumption. Another huge factor is air conditioning, which makes everywhere from hotels to restaurants and bars comfortable places to relax in the desert heat.
Then there are the secondary factors to consider, including how most tourists choose to visit - by air. Even just one return flight from New York to Vegas can release around 20% of the greenhouse gases that a car does in a whole year. Add to this the huge amounts of energy that go into building and adding to the casinos themselves and it's easy to see the scale of the issue.
How some casinos are changing their approach
Some land-based casinos in Vegas have installed solar panels to offset their huge carbon emissions
That's not to say that the casino operators are happy with the situation. For some time their revenues have been falling so any efforts they can make to improve the bottom line would be very welcome. This is why a number of them have been starting to exploit the natural resource that Nevada is never short of having - sunshine.
Operators like MGM have started installing solar panels on the top of their casinos and conference centres with the ultimate aim of becoming self-sufficient. However, many have been hampered financially by the energy provider that has the monopoly across Nevada, NV Energy. Fearing that this loss of income could force them to raise domestic energy prices they imposed a fee of $126 million on the casinos - fully supported by the regulator - which Wynn Las Vegas was moved to challenge in court.
It's also worth mentioning that it's not just the casino industry in Las Vegas that is contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and power consumption. On the other side of the world, the Chinese administrative province of Macau is also struggling with a power problem relating to the maintenance of its casinos.
Online casinos: a more sustainable alternative
Online casinos have been growing in popularity over the past two decades
In the light of the environmental effects of cities built around Vegas's 24-hour casino culture, there is another way to address them. For more than 20 years, online casinos have been becoming increasingly popular, and increasingly sophisticated. Owing to rapid advancements in digital technology, and huge competition in the marketplace, online casino games are more engaging and immersive than ever. As a result, players are heading to them in their droves - and the global online gambling industry is predicted to be worth over $70 billion in the coming years.
So questions are now being asked about whether they may be the more sustainable alternative to their bricks and mortar rivals.
The online casinos themselves have long seen the potential for recreating the excitement and experience of the traditional casino, hence the emergence of the live casino experience. Using actual dealers playing in real time and streaming the action to a mobile device or PC, it contains all the atmosphere of being in a gaming room, without the environmental costs associated with it.
Let's take one of the quintessential casino games in Vegas - roulette. Globally renowned as an exciting game where everything is won or lost on the single spin of a wheel, roulette is just as exciting as an online game. High-quality graphics make it seem like you're there in person, watching the wheel spin. If everyone played American roulette at an online casino instead of at a land-based casino in Vegas, the positive impact on energy reduction would be considerable.
Admittedly, these online sites do need computer servers and technical infrastructures to operate, but the energy consumption is negligible when compared with the real thing. While some governments may not show quite the commitment to combatting climate change that many of us would like to see, there's certainly a willingness on the part of individuals to help.
Looking ahead: are there promising signs?
Are land-based casinos beginning to wake up to their environmental responsibilities?
So where people may previously have relied on their cars for even short journeys, many are now walking or cycling. Or, rather than taking a two-week holiday abroad, the simpler pleasures of camping at home are becoming more popular. On a smaller scale, plenty are just as happy to stay in and stream a film instead of heading out to the cinema. It all points to great potential for a change in gambling patterns, which may not be good news for the casinos, but which certainly would be for the environment.
As to whether the gambling industry will change, or how quickly, is definitely open to debate. But the early signs are there that, alongside the growth of online casinos, the big players are starting to wake up to both their responsibilities and the opportunities to run leaner businesses with lower energy costs.
Let's hope, for all of our sakes, that this is a trend that will continue.