As Illinois has expanded its gambling options in recent years, it has also taken steps to combat problem gambling. One of the most important tools available to players is a self-exclusion list. Gamblers can put themselves on this list whenever they feel it is necessary. Once they’ve done so, they can actually be charged with trespassing if they’re caught in an Illinois casino – effectively stopping them from gambling at casinos in the state ever again.
Tavern Gaming Allowances an Issue
It was an effective solution for problem gamblers, one that has been used in many different jurisdictions around the world. But last year, a new avenue for gambling opened in the state, one that threatened to undermine these self-exclusion lists. Last fall, bars and restaurants throughout Illinois were permitted to start putting gambling machines into their establishments -sometimes called “taverns” – for patrons to play with. Unfortunately for compulsive gamblers, these venues weren’t part of the self-exclusion list, and still aren’t to this day.
Gambling regulators in the state see this as a major problem. Since there are now large numbers of these machines across the state, the lack of self-exclusion programs that include these venues makes it possible that they could help make more addicts, or stop others from recovering from their problems.
It might seem to most like a self-exclusion list wouldn’t be such a big deal. After all, a gambler could just choose not to use this tool, meaning those with the biggest problems might be the least likely to sign up for one. But many individuals who simply need a hurdle that will take away the ease with which they can gamble their money find them to be an incredibly powerful option.
According to a story in the Daily Herald – a newspaper that services the suburban Chicago area – Melynda Litchfield is one such person. As one of 10,179 people who had signed up for the casino self-exclusion list in Illinois, she found that being on the list removed the instant gratification she had received when her social gambling turned into several trips to a local casino every week.
Soon after Litchfield began to recover, gambling came to restaurants and bars, causing a new set of challenges for her.
“I barely had time to get a solid footing in recovery,” she said.
The new gambling machines come courtesy of a 2009 law that was designed to help pay for road and school construction. Under the law, any venue that has a liquor license can install up to five gambling machines, meaning they are commonly found in restaurants, bars, and locations like truck stops.
At first, this was a small program: in its first month, there were only 61 machines operating under the new law, and gamblers lost just $90,000 that month through playing them. But less than a year later there are now more than 8,800 machines in the state, which took in $25.5 million last month.
Illinois regulators say that they understand the issue, and that they’re looking into how they might be able to help. However, it’s not a simple problem to solve. Bars and restaurants simply can’t track their patrons in the same way that casinos can, making it difficult to come up with a practical system that would keep gamblers from playing on the machines in these venues.
The gambling machines have been controversial since they were allowed by law. While they have become very popular in some parts of the state, many towns outlawed them to ensure that local venues would not feature them, mostly out of concerns about possible societal harm.