Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Swedish Internet Poker

While the US does what it can to keep its citizens from gambling on the internet, other nations have taken a different approach. In March, 2006, Sweden's state-owned lottery, sports betting, and casino company, Svenska Spel, opened an internet poker facility, available only to Swedish adults. The story of its founding and first year or so of operation is recounted in an article in the April 2007 Gaming Law Review.

To help realize its goal of promoting responsible gaming, the Swedish internet poker game makes generous use of partial and full self-exclusion options. From Svenska Spel's English-language webpage comes this description:
To minimize the risks for gaming addiction each poker player at svenskaspel.se has to set individual limits per session, per day, per week, per month as well as maximum duration of the day, week or month. Furthermore the player may exclude himself.
That is, the imposition of limits is not voluntary: if you want to gamble at the Swedish poker site, you must specify a series of time and value betting limits. You can set them as high as you like, but you must set them, and you cannot raise the ceilings before the end of a waiting period. (Alteration rules are asymmetric: you can lower your gambling limits at any time.) The site itself enforces an overall limit on the size of a bet in a single poker hand, but it is huge by most people's standards, over $10,000.

The article in the Gaming Law Review also discusses another Vice Squad obsession, the possibility that Swedish laws providing legal gambling monopolies (besides Svenska Spel, there is another one for horse racing) might conflict with European Union requirements. For a while it looked as if the Swedish government was going to end the gambling monopolies, but the situation is currently in flux.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

More on Self-Exclusion

A couple days ago Vice Squad mentioned self-exclusion as one component of a policy regime that can aid problematic gamblers, and noted the possibility that forms of self-exclusion (perhaps instituted as part of broader consumer licensing policies) could be applied to other vices. Even if self-exclusion does not work all that well, it has two appealing features, namely, it is voluntary and it does not impose on gamblers who are uninterested in being excluded.

I have tried to learn a little bit more about gambling self-exclusion, and have been aided by two articles: "Casino Self-Exclusion Programmes: A Review of the Issues," by Nadine R. Nowatzki and Robert J. Williams (18-page pdf here), published in July 2002 in International Gambling Studies; and, "Self-exclusion: A Proposed Gateway to Treatment Model," by Alex Blaszczynski, Robert Ladouceur, and Lia Nower, in the April 2007 issue of the same journal. Some things I learned from these articles:

(1) Gambling self-exclusion is quite recent, with the first formal program adopted in Canada in 1989. [Update! -- Looks like Austria got there, oh, more than a half century earlier.]

(2) Lots of folks who self-exclude from a gambling location breach their agreement by returning (sometimes disguised) to the location and gambling. Compliance with self-exclusion agreements is higher in the Netherlands, because entrants to casinos in the Netherlands must present identification, which can be checked against the self-excluded list. It also appears that the self-exclusion program in the Netherlands is accessed by a higher proportion of problem gamblers than are similar (but not identical -- there is lots of variation among self-exclusion rules) programs elsewhere.

(3) Despite the enforcement problems, self-exclusion programs are associated with some beneficial outcomes. Blaszczynski, Ladouceur, and Nower (page 62) describe a recent evaluation of one self-exclusion regime: "Participants reported that, at follow-up, the urge to gamble was significantly reduced while the perception of control increased significantly for all participants. The intensity of negative consequences for gambling was significantly reduced for daily activities, social life, work and mood."

(4) Though exclusion programs are designed to help those who have self-control problems with gambling, the decision to enter an exclusion agreement can itself be made in an o'er-hasty fashion, perhaps after suffering a significant gambling loss. Blaszczynski, Ladouceur, and Nower (page 69) suggest that gamblers who insist on immediate exclusion be provided with a 24-hour exclusion while their case is under consideration, thus giving them time to cool-off before a decision is taken regarding a longer-lasting exclusion.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Self-Exclusion and Licensing

An effective tool for helping some problem gamblers is self-exclusion, whereby an individual registers to be prevented from entering commercial gambling establishments, and to be free of targeted inducements from casino marketers. Pennsylvania set up its self-exclusion program last year, and announced today that so far 52 people have placed themselves on the excluded list. Pennsylvania allows self-excluders to choose among a one-year ban, a five-year ban, and a lifetime ban, and 42% (22 individuals, presumably) have chosen the lifetime ban.

Last Monday (May 14, 2007 -- problem with internal links solved!), Vice Squad noted (in the case of an addiction to internet Scrabble) how a credible 'lack of access' might reduce or eliminate withdrawal and cravings. In the case of the gambling exclusion, here's the experience of one Keystone State participant:
J.D., a self-excluded individual, echoes those thoughts [of the effectiveness of exclusion]. "Since the day I signed up, I haven't really thought about gambling," J.D. said. "I sleep better at night. I feel better when I'm at home."
Requiring licenses for vice consumption would automatically set-up an exclusion system -- those who want to be excluded could refuse to acquire or renew their license, or even precommit to not acquiring a license. Or perhaps they would acquire a license, but voluntarily impose a ceiling on the extent to which the license allows participation. When currently illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine are legalized, I suspect that such a licensing system -- and the accompanying self-exclusion possibilities -- will commonly form part of the control regimes.

I first learned of Pennsylvania's press release from earthtimes.org.