Posts Tagged ‘gambling’

How can we improve gambling self-ban programs? A gambling addiction expert answers

May 8, 2009

Nudge reader Rachel Volberg is a sociologist and head of Gemini Research, where she has looked at gambling addictions for more than 20 years. Naturally, she was most intrigued by the parts of Nudge about gambling self-ban programs, where problem gamblers ask states to put their names on a list that bars them from entering a casino. These programs, she explained, are much more widespread than just the three states mentioned in the book. Volberg kindly offered to share some thoughts about the effectiveness of these programs and how to improve them.

As a gambling researcher, I was struck by the mention of gambling self-bans in Chapter 16 of Nudge. In addition to the three states mentioned in the book—Illinois, Indiana and Missouri—self-exclusion programs (as they are generally called) have been introduced in other states, including Connecticut, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada and New Jersey. Self-exclusion programs also operate in several European countries including the Netherlands and Switzerland (where the programs are mandatory rather than voluntary), in New Zealand, in all of the Canadian provinces and in several Australian states, most notably Queensland and Victoria.

Given their widespread adoption, shockingly little research has been done to evaluate the effectiveness of self-exclusion programs or to identify what works best. Policymakers have enthusiastically adopted these programs, but by getting too far ahead of the research, they risk trumpeting claims they cannot support.

Only 15 academic articles and government reports have been published on self-exclusion. The most thorough study was completed last year by the Responsible Gambling Council (RGC) of Ontario: this effort included a review of the available literature, a survey of all the Canadian self-exclusion programs, focus groups with individuals who had self-excluded, interviews with self-exclusion program administrators, and a two-day forum of international experts that included regulators, operators, service providers, researchers, and policy makers.

Despite the lack of empirical evidence, the RGC report identified some trends in the evolution of self-exclusion programs. Increasingly, the self-exclusion process is defined as one that provides assistance to individuals rather than punishes them for bad behavior. The notion that all self-exclusions should involve a compulsory lifetime ban has given way to the idea that self-excluders should be offered bans of varying length, from six months to several years. Better links are developing between gambling venues, where people typically register for a self-ban, and specialist treatment programs so that self-excluders who recognize that they have a gambling problem have a better chance of getting the help they need.

While self-exclusion programs are moving in new directions, there remains considerable room for improvement. Self-exclusion programs need to be promoted more aggressively so that gamblers will know that they exist. There also needs to be much better regulatory oversight of these programs and clear penalties for both operators and self-excluders who do not follow the rules.

There is a need for greater clarity about the responsibilities of operators to detect self-excluders and of self-excluders who often breach their agreements and then fault the operators for not preventing them from gambling. There is the question of whether, and how, self-exclusion bans can cover all of the gambling venues in a jurisdiction. Finally, there is the issue of how to better manage the process when a self-ban ends, perhaps with mandatory education or an active (rather than the usual passive) reinstatement process.

However, given the dearth of information that is available, perhaps what is really needed is a good feedback and disclosure system that would finally generate some data to tell policymakers, regulators, operators and gamblers themselves how well or poorly self-exclusion programs are doing. As a viable nudge, this one is still in the early stages.

A reader critiques casino self-ban policies

February 4, 2009

Reader Joanne Fendell astutely points out some weaknesses of casino self-ban policies and offers possible improvements.

I believe that the use of self-exclusion can be quite useful for gamblers, but it doesn’t reach out to enough people. I live in Maryland. If I want to be self-excluded from Delaware Park, my nearest “gambling opportunity”, I have to register for the self-exclusion list in Dover, some 40 miles farther away. Similarly, I would have to travel to Casino Gaming Commission in Atlantic City or Trenton to be self-excluded from casinos in New Jersey. Both of these states require the prospective member of the self-exclusion list to sign up during normal business hours. The options are consistent from state to state: self-exclusion for one year, five years, or life. If the “life” option is taken, you can never be removed from the self-exclusion list.

Self-exclusion does not automatically expire upon the completion of the self-exclusion period. It is necessary for gamblers to petition to be removed from the list.

Pennsylvania took a positive step in their self-exclusion program by letting people sign up for self-exclusion at the casinos anytime. Unfortunately, this is not explained well on the web site of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, and the prospective member of the list will believe that they have to go to Harrisburg to sign up for self-exclusion. Pennsylvania has more self-excluded gamblers, about 700, after a year than New Jersey has after at least 20 years of the self-exclusion program, about 550. There is likely to be some overlap in the people on the lists.

There are unintended consequences to self-exclusion. Harrah’s casinos reserve the right to ban gamblers from all of their properties nationwide, not just the gaming floor, so sign up for one self-exclusion list, and you’ve signed up for self-exclusion everywhere that Harrah’s has a business presence. They won’t even let you stay at the property.

This can be inconvenient for business travel, if you need to attend a conferences that is held at a casino. There should be a way to petition for a week-long parole that lets you stay at the hotel, with the ban on gambling still in effect.

The virtue of self-exclusion can be seen in a saying of Oscar Wilde’s: “I can resist anything but temptation.” By signing up for self-exclusion, you are volunteering to be arrested. Most casinos treat violation of the self-exclusion ban as trespassing, so you may be escorted from the property of arrested. This may be why New Jersey and Delaware require the sign-up to be done at a non-casino site.

There is an easy way to fix this problem. Have a phone number at the casino that the person who wants to be removed from the list can call for an appointment.

Going to the blackjack table? Bring your dad

January 6, 2009

A commitment strategy to avoid gambling away your winnings from the non-fiction dad’s five part review of Nudge.

The last day of the cruise I couldn’t get the losses out of my head and was sure that if I sat down again I could get my money back.  This time my Dad came along to watch.  I sat down with $50 this time just in case I caught a cold streak before the winning was to begin.  Well sure enough the first few hands didn’t start off all that well, and I was down to $20.  Then finally the dealer busted and I won a hand.  This was followed by a tap on the shoulder.  My Dad told me to give him the chip that I had just won so I wouldn’t be tempted to bet with it.  Then I won the next hand, followed by another chip in my Dad’s pocket.  Then again, same routine.  I started to think that there was something to this, as after the fourth win in a row there had to be some kind of karmic energy involved with “being responsible” with your winnings.  I believe I won something like the next five out of seven hands and ended up even for the whole trip, all thanks to my Dad playing the role of the blackjack jiminy cricket.