Every year, thousands will be treated for gambling addiction, and thousands more will begin to develop addiction. It’s also likely that these numbers are only the tip of the iceberg.
The message: while casino gaming and other forms of gambling may be a form of casual entertainment for many, for some, gambling addiction is real.
Governments that permit the operation of gambling within their jurisdictions take safety measures and adopt specific programs to combat gambling addiction. Some of these programs work with direct cooperation with the casinos they oversee.
One such program is self-exclusion. Next, we will look at 10 facts about self-exclusion, what it is, and how it works.
The topic of addiction is usually treated as a taboo. There is a social stigma attached to addicts. Usually, the closest contact most of us have is via news media, where only the more sensational cases are exploited.
The war on drugs, for example, has sought to provide lengthy prison terms for people who are caught up in non-violent criminal activity due to drug addiction.
As such, addiction is typically associated with crime or celebrity scandal. It is noteworthy that the United States approach over recent decades and public policy administrations has been to criminalize addiction.
There are therefore considerable barriers that gambling addicts must overcome to get the help they need.
It is perhaps for these reasons that the avenue of self-exclusion is typically a last resort for the gambling addict seeking rescue. Nevertheless, it is an avenue that many thousands are exploring every year.
1. What is Self-Exclusion?
Self-exclusion is a program in which you are banned from entering premises where legalized gambling takes place. This can include racetracks, casinos, off-track betting establishments and so on.
Perhaps needless to say, self-exclusion programs do not extend to illegal or unregistered forms of betting.
2. Am I a Problem Gambler if I Think I Need Self-Exclusion?
If you identify as a problem gambler, then you qualify for the self-exclusion program. In other words, there is no set objective, definition, or standard.
For some gamblers, the sense that they are gambling with more frequency than they feel comfortable with is enough to motivate them to opt for participation in a self-exclusion program.
Unfortunately for some, self-exclusion is a last resort. Problem gamblers turn to self-exclusion after they have burned through paychecks, savings, credit cards, lines of credit and so on. Facing total financial ruin, they may then turn to self-exclusion.
However, you do not need to be affected by financial ruin before you opt for voluntary self-exclusion.
3. Can I Volunteer Someone Else for Self-Exclusion?
As in various forms of addiction, very often friends and family members associated with the individual struggling with addiction will form an intervention. The intervention is intended to confront the addict by revealing the devastation the addiction is causing in his or her life.
Interventions ideally show the support and caring available to the addict should they take the necessary steps for getting effective treatment.
Often, interventions are acted out after other avenues have been exhausted. As such, the addict may either be experiencing or facing serious ruin at that point in their addiction.
Since many who volunteer for self-exclusion do so as a last resort, and in the midst of serious financial ramifications as a result of their gambling abuse, it may seem that self-exclusion programs could be a useful tool for those hoping to intervene on an addict’s behalf.
You may strongly feel that a family member, friend or significant other qualifies for, and could benefit from, participating in a self-exclusion program.
However, as the title of the program suggests, self-exclusion programs can only be participated in voluntarily.
The gambler must him or herself take the initiative.
Later we will look at some of the realities of the self-exclusion process, including its implementation and effectiveness. It may become clear why self-exclusion must be voluntary and not imposed.
4. Who Uses Self-Exclusion?
This question and the answers available may give us a sense of how the gambling community in general feels about the voluntary self-exclusion program concept.
Often, the popularity, (or absence of popularity) of a program at the grassroots levels – that is, by the people the program is designed to effect – can tell us more about its effectiveness and usefulness.
There are no known statistics or studies that can answer this question – at least, not studies that employ a broad enough data sample which may be reflective of larger gambler demographics.
However, we may get some sense of what percentage of gamblers seek voluntary self-exclusion by looking at smaller case studies.
A recent such case study investigated the issue of problem gambling in the province of Ontario, Canada. Self-exclusion programs were also explored in this study. It is perhaps from these figures that we may get some useful insights.
Studies done on the impact of legalized gaming on communities suggest that approximately 1% to 2% of the general population may be vulnerable to developing some degree of problem gambling, where gaming is introduced.
In Ontario, as of 2015, the voluntary self-exclusion program had 17,860 participants.
If we take the overall population of Ontario as the sample demographic, then we can break it down as follows:
- Ontario population – 13.6 million
- Educated and widely accepted estimation of potential problem gamblers in Ontario (1.5% of 13.6 million) – 204,000
- Number of volunteers of the Ontario self-exclusion program – approximately 18,000
From these numbers, using the population of the entire province to represent potential and actual gamblers, we can conclude that approximately 9% of potential problem gamblers opt for self-exclusion.
Yet, if anything, the 9% figure can only be considered conservative.
This is because while gaming facilities are set up around Ontario and thereby theoretically effecting Ontarians in general, those most effected will be in the communities in which the gaming facilities exist.
The research that uses community-based demographics is beyond the bounds of this post. However, we can look at two more case studies to get some sense of how these numbers compare.
The communities of Windsor, Ontario and Thunder Bay, Ontario, are both homes to casinos in their downtown cores. Recent studies show that over 1% of the local population is on the self-exclusion list.
That percentage is significantly higher than the percentage of general Ontarians that are on the list, which was expected.
These local figures suggest that the total number of people at risk of developing gambling addiction is much higher in local communities than in the general population.
Using the Ontario case study, we can make a preliminary conclusion that at least 10% of problem gamblers volunteer for self-exclusion from casino and gaming properties.
Likely, that percentage is higher.
This would seem to suggest that, despite the general taboo and social stigma attached to addictions, members of the gaming community seem to see self-exclusion as a viable option for regaining control of their lives.
It also leads us to our next point, concerning where those on self-exclusion programs may be located within communities that are home for gaming establishments.
5. Participants in Self-Exclusion Programs Tend to be Located Closest to Gambling Establishments
Proximity and ease of access to gambling facilities seems to be the prime characteristic shared by those who volunteer for self-exclusion.
Using the Ontario examples, areas of local populations closest to a casino or racetrack tend to be the highest participating players at those same establishments.
For example, according to Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission (OLG) casino and racetrack figures, 8% of the community of Sarnia, Ontario, a near neighbour to Windsor, are signed up to the OLG Winner’s Circle program, a program that provides members with perks based, at least partly, on the member’s gaming frequency at OLG establishments.
6. How is Self-Exclusion Enforced?
Self-exclusion is enforced by the participating gaming establishment.
In Ontario, the OLG’s process includes facial photography and signing agreements that any attempt to enter a gaming venue operated by OLG may result in trespassing charges.
The photographs are entered in to a biometric facial recognition system. This system is designed to assist casinos with identifying self-exclusion members.
The biometric facial recognition systems acts as a sort of “fingerprint” detection, using the participant’s face as the fingerprint.
When the individual passes before a casino security camera, the facial recognition software will scan the person’s facial features and, if they draw a match, will alert the attached casino security officer of the impending infraction taking place.
It is then up to the casino’s security team to intercept the individual and execute the terms and conditions of the self-exclusion program.
This would appear to suggest that a family member or friend of a self-exclusion volunteer, who they know is attempting to enter a gaming establishment undetected, may be able to contact the casino and inform them of the impending infraction.
This may provide the casino security team with a greater chance of detecting the infraction and intercepting the individual before the person falls victim to more damaging gambling behavior.
If this is so, there are no known figures, as of this writing, of the number of cases where casinos work in tandem with public support in enforcing the program’s restrictions.
7. The Duration of One’s Participation in a Self-Exclusion Program May Vary
Self-exclusion programs tend to provide some variance in terms of the duration a volunteer is required to enlist.
Some programs offer the volunteer to choose the length of exclusion. The length may run from 6 months to 3 years or more.
In some jurisdictions, the volunteer’s participation in the program may be indefinite, without any set program termination date.
The ability of the volunteer to choose how long their self-exclusion process will last would seem to provide some flexibility in the program, which may encourage greater usage from the gaming community.
Remember that not all volunteers of such programs need be suffering from extreme ravishes of addiction.
If a gambler is feeling that they are perhaps gambling more often than they feel comfortable, being able to sign up for a 6- or 12-month hiatus from the games may be all they need to break the habit.
Were the same gambler presented with only a lifetime ban from gambling then he or she may not be as likely to pursue self-exclusion as an appropriate solution.
8. How Effective is Self-Exclusion as a Solution for Problem Gambling?
Not a lot of research has been published on the effectiveness of self-exclusion programs. However, from what is available, we can detect what are likely universal trends.
Firstly, the banning from gaming premises aspect of self-exclusion is hardly fool-proof.
Per OLG statistics, roughly 1,500 to 2,000 participants in the OLG self-exclusion program are caught each year attempting to enter OLG gaming premises.
This means that over 11% of program members attempt to break the self-exclusion agreement each year.
The 11% percent does not represent the number of trespasses that are not caught. Nor does it represent the number of successful trespasses made by a volunteer before they are caught.
We may therefore conclude that a significant degree of trespassing can occur within jurisdictions that operate a voluntary self-exclusion program.
9. Alternative Betting
As we established near the beginning of this piece, self-exclusion programs can in no way extend enforceable jurisdiction beyond legal gaming premises.
Therefore, though a person who identifies strongly enough to enroll in a self-exclusion program, there is nothing preventing that person from seeking alternative betting opportunities – namely, illegal betting.
This is available via the common methods of contacting a bookie and so on.
This reality would appear to severely undermine any potential benefits the self-exclusion program concept may provide.
If at least 11% are caught each year trying to enter legal gaming establishments, how many more succeed in simply placing bets through more traditional, and undetectable, methods?
Studies conducted in the United Kingdom over recent years indicate that the 10,468 known breaches of self-exclusion which were reported in 2009-2010 were double the same figure from the year before.
Those working with the self-exclusion program in the UK admit that the program is very difficult to enforce. Often, forms submitted by the volunteer, which include the list of establishments he or she seeks to be banned from, only gather dust in department shelves.
Even when the person is known to the establishment, UK punters, as with Ontario gamblers, are often able to simply walk back onto the premises either undetected or undeterred.
The general conclusion is that voluntary self-exclusion programs may not be the ultimate treatment for a gambling addiction.
In fact, perhaps with some perversity, there is an “odds angle” built into the self-exclusion program: the volunteer faces potential detection and intercept which can lead to trespassing charges.
Yet, there is a good chance the volunteer will enter the grounds to place bets. It would seem any gambler would likely rise to those odds, much less one with a gambling compulsion.
And yet, here we may draw some additional insight into the gambling behaviors of the typical self-exclusion volunteer.
The alternate-betting scenario involving bookies could only benefit those in the habit of making sports bets, or similar bets where the action occurs outside a casino’s walls.
Per figures from studies conducted by bodies such as the American Gaming Association and similar, sports book betting makes up a very small ratio of typical casino visitors.
Most visitors, per the same studies – as in, at least 60% of casino visitors – indicate slot machines are the preferred game of choice.
These statistics would seem to reflect a reality where a large percentage of potential self-exclusion infractions and trespasses may take place around the slots areas of casinos.
Perhaps casino exclusion policies and surveillance practices that honed detected strategies on the slots and electronic gaming areas of their floors would be more successful in curtailing trespassing infractions and thus reinforce the integrity of the self-exclusion concept.
10. Online Self-Exclusion
There is no point in discussing the validity or reform potential of a voluntary self-exclusion program without the context of online betting opportunities.
After-all, the brick and mortar casino is no longer the only game in town.
And thus, we start to find that the edges of the self-exclusion concept begin to become frayed.
In the United States, online gaming is legal in such states as Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware.
Due to the ambiguity and fuzzy interpretation of American wire transfer laws (under the jurisdiction of which such issues as a player’s revenues and money transfer from online gaming would normally fall) each state will be required to make its own ruling on legal online gaming.
As such, it is unlikely that an individual would be detected or prosecuted if playing online in a state where it is not legal to do so.
The point of which is simply this: online gaming provides a viable alternative and is almost impossible to create exclusion.
This is not due to the lack of availability of self-exclusion programs extending to, and being available from, online casino websites. There are websites that do offer a voluntary self-exclusion process.
But due to the shear ease of availability of gaming websites, and the anonymity provided an online player, it is hard to imagine, at least with current technology and laws, how self-exclusion – or exclusion of any kind – could be enforced.
There is one route of potential – via an individual’s credit line.
Online websites know the player only via their credit card information. If the credit card information submitted to the site is accepted, then the player can access the games.
Curtailing a self-exclusion volunteer access to any form of available credit, such as is typically accepted by online gaming sites, would be a significant step towards removing online gambling as a non-traceable infraction of the self-exclusion principle.
Voluntary self-exclusion programs are one legislated solution to the issue of problem gambling. It has been developed and established within communities and jurisdictions where legal gaming takes place.
The program requires the gambler to volunteer to be banned from a submitted list of legal gaming establishments within that jurisdiction. No one else can sign him or her to the program. The program may last for a declared or indefinite timeframe, depending on the agreement.
A significant portion of gamblers who feel they have an issue with controlling their gaming see exclusion as a viable option.
However, it also appears that a highly significant portion of volunteers for exclusion can breach the bonds of the agreement and continue with their gambling habits, often in the same establishments from which they applied to be banned.
To volunteer for self-exclusion, an individual must be brave or desperate enough to risk the social stigma generally reserved for addiction.
Exclusion appears as a severe strategy since it is basically requiring the gambler to admit and announce that he or she cannot be trusted inside a casino. For an addict, this is no small step.
And yet, even for those that do opt for exclusion, the gap between the program’s intent and enforcement is considerable. It may appear as a last resort, but in no way, in its current form, is it necessarily an effective or reliable solution.
If you face a potential gambling problem, or know someone who does, do not expect a voluntary self-exclusion program to provide what it seems to promise.