Maryland is seeking to end a cumbersome self-exclusion policy, regulators say, one that is ironically having the opposite of its desired effect: to get those who can’t control their own gambling habits to sign up. Self-exclusion lists are a popular tool used by gamblers to keep from getting themselves into more trouble, essentially forbidding them from entering casinos by their own choice.
The lists are used by casinos and their regulators to let individuals who have gambling problems (or think they might be developing one) to keep themselves from being allowed on a casino floor. But in Maryland, officials are starting to believe that their self-exclusion lists may be doing more harm than good.
According to reports, the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency is considering removing the lifetime self-exclusion option for gamblers, saying that it may be excessive and perhaps even harmful for some gamblers.
“We’re probably going to change the program in the next couple of months,” said agency director Stephen Martino. “I think what we will probably get to is removing the lifetime option.”
Two-Year Option Remains Available
This change wouldn’t completely eliminate the self-exclusion lists. Gamblers would still have the option of applying for a two-year ban, after which they would have to undergo a state assessment if they wanted to come off of the lists. Since the bans are extended automatically otherwise, the lifetime bans are somewhat redundant.
“There are some legal concerns about how enforceable the lifetime ban is anyway,” Martino added.
Another issue, though, is the fact that being on these lists can sometimes harm gamblers rather than help them control their actions. As of early September, a total of 576 people in Maryland had put themselves on the self-exclusion lists. By doing so, they open themselves up to the possibility of fines or even arrest if they enter a casino in the state.
But despite that small number of participants, there have still been 63 violations of the policy since 2011, most occurring in the last year. Typically, these violators are charged with trespassing, but that often doesn’t occur until after they’ve been in the casino for some time.
“There is no facial recognition software that is stopping people at the front door,” said Martino. “We find out whether people are on the list when they interact with the casino.”
Gamblers Often Surprised By Arrests
This means that many gamblers are accused of crimes that only exist because they put themselves on these lists. This can come to a surprise to gamblers who just think they’ll be turned away from the casino if they slip up and try to place a bet.
“It was kind of a traumatic experience,” said Orrin Silverman, who was arrested and charged with trespassing at the Maryland Live! Casino after placing himself on the exclusion list. “I half-thought they would give me a slap on the wrist and say, ‘Leave.’ They full-blown put me in handcuffs, took my fingerprints.”
Similar stories can be found across the country. In Missouri, more than 3,300 such arrests have taken place since 2009, while Illinois has made about 3,500 arrests since 2002. Typically, violators are only given probation, and jail time is rare.
Still, stories like these can scare people away from signing up for self-exclusion from casinos, as can the finality of a lifetime ban. That’s part of the reason why Maryland may do away with that option, which may be too much of a commitment for some gamblers.
“A lifetime ban may dissuade a fair number of people,” said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. “It sets a very, very high bar when it is irrevocable.”