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How effective is self-exclusion?

How effective is banning oneself from gambling through the casino? By David McKee

Now that casinos are legal in Japan, the government is following the examples of the United States and Singapore in crafting policies that will discourage disordered gaming. These include self-exclusion lists for would-be players who feel themselves to be at risk. This raises the question: How effective is banning oneself from gambling through the casino?

Carol O’Hare, executive director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, tells us that “Nevada Gaming Regulation 5.170 requires gaming licensees to offer a program where a person can request they no longer receive credit, check cashing privileges, and direct mail marketing at a casino property. This has been nicknamed the ’self-limit’ clause and it does not require them to ban anyone from the casino as is the case in a  self-exclusion program. Nevada does not require any gaming company to offer self-exclusion, but there may be some who do because they also operate in jurisdictions where self-exclusion is a required program.”

O’Hare adds, “Caesars Entertainment has a company-wide self-exclusion program, where if you sign up at any Caesars location, they will enter you in their database for exclusion at all of their properties.” (Caesars is already in South Korea and hopes to be in Japan.) It’s a uniform—as opposed to state-by-state—policy that is networked through every Caesars casino. According to Caesars’ Dean Hestermann, it’s so fast that if you enter yourself into the database at Caesars Palace, the information will be recorded and disseminated as quickly as it will take you to walk across the street to Harrah’s Las Vegas. Hestermann adds that the company isn’t trying to dictate players’ behavior so much as to help the player change his own behavior.

At a Caesars property you can sign up for a one-year, five-year or lifetime ’86’ status. The company doesn’t try to weed self-excluded players out of the millions crossing the transom (as Japan will shortly try to do) but if you win a jackpot, request a comp or use your players card, you’ll be flagged and escorted off the property.

Another company with a self-exile policy is Boyd Gaming. Or should we say “policies,” since Boyd tailors what it does to the rules of each state in which it operates. “Many states outside of Nevada,” says Boyd Director of Corporate Communications David Strow, “have a formal self-exclusion program. Under this program, any customer who voluntarily places themselves on this list is not permitted on the property of any casino in that state. If they are caught in a casino in that state, a self-excluded customer is subject to arrest and confiscation of winnings. Terms vary by state – in some states, the self-exclude is effective for a few years, while in others it is a lifetime ban (and cannot be revoked).  Self-exclusion lists and programs are maintained by the state, and shared with casinos throughout that state.

“Some states (Louisiana and Mississippi, for example), offer patrons the option of selecting self-limit or self-exclude (or both),” says Strow. “Self-limit works the same way–if a customer puts in a self-limit request in one state, we share that information across the portfolio (and won’t grant services to a customer who is on that list). However, to clarify—we will not force a customer to stop gambling unless they are specifically on a self-exclude list.

“Finally–when we receive information that a customer has self-excluded, we share that information across our company.  A customer won’t be arrested for violating self-exclusion if they aren’t on that state’s list, but we will advise them they need to stop gambling if we learn they are on property (and will trespass them if necessary).

“And, of course – we do encourage customers to call their state’s problem gambling helpline,” Strow concludes, “if they believe they have a gambling problem, and are seeking assistance.”

Sound advice, wherever you happen to be. As for the effectiveness of self-exclusion, O’Hare says that “Self-exclusion programs are not meant to be an intervention to prevent someone from gambling, but rather, they are a supportive tool for the individual who has made a personal commitment that they no longer want to gamble. So the effectiveness of self-exclusion programs starts with the person's own motivation when they sign up. 

“People who have recognized they have a gambling disorder and are seeking treatment and support to stop gambling may find self-exclusion to be a useful tool for their own personal accountability to their recovery,” she continues. “If they do have urges to gamble, they know that violating the voluntary self-exclusion agreement could result in embarrassing consequences such as being charged with trespass. I have heard from some people that this is a very helpful 'speed-bump' that causes them to think carefully and find other resources to resist the urge to gamble.  Self-exclusion can also be a way for the gambler to demonstrate to their loved ones, employer, etc., that they are truly committed to their recovery.”

The next step will be for online casinos to adopt self-exclusion programs for players who may be at risk. This is more difficult, as one does not have the tools of biometric facial-recognition or direct human interaction to deploy. However, Internet casinos have the advantage of being able to block the disordered gambler’s instruments of payment. Major online casinos have already started to act on this, especially in Norway. You can visit this web portal for more information.

How effective are self-exile programs? Arnie Wexler, founder of 1-800-LAST-BET says it’s up to the individual player. Wexler should know: He was the first American to exclude himself at a casino, showing up at 7 a.m. the day the policy went into effect in Atlantic City. (He admits he was doing it to publicize the milestone.) He cites the case of a woman who, having banned herself in New Jersey, went to Philadelphia and hit a jackpot. She tried plunking her boyfriend down in front of the slot machine, so he could collect the money but she reckoned without the ‘eye in the sky,’ which had recorded her win. When the casino called her bluff she tore off her wig and fled. A doctor who was self-exiled in Iowa tried his luck in Mississippi and won big — only to have state regulators confiscate the payday and donate it to charity.

As Wexler puts it, exclusion lists “are a bigger benefit to the casino than to the player because the casino gets to keep the money.” So think about that if you’re on the list and are tempted to challenge the house anyway. Believe us, the house always wins.