Monday, July 14, 2008

Self-Exclusion Litigants

Having self-excluded from blogging while abroad, Vice Squad is behind in all our standard obsessions, including self-exclusion. People who joined self-exclusion lists for casinos in Ontario have filed a class action suit. Their gripe is that the casino regulators were not assiduous in keeping the excluded gamblers away. If the authorities in Ontario catch a self-excluded individual trying to sneak into a casino, that person can be charged with trespassing.

Compulsive gambling experts tend to emphasize the personal responsibility of the gamblers themselves to overcome their addiction, and many self-exclusion programs declare that ultimately, it is the bettor's responsibility to keep away. Nevertheless, successful self-exclusion programs do require a credible threat of enforcement, and casinos may well have to be monitored to ensure that they put some effort into erecting and maintaining entry barriers aimed at those on the excluded list. Self-excluded individuals tend to be heavy gamblers, of course, and hence a very profitable clientèle for the casinos. So gambling establishments might have a financial interest in looking the other way when a self-excluded (former) patron walks in the door.

In other self-exclusion news, remember that fellow who wanted a self-exclusion litigant's name revealed? The court had only released the litigant's initials, and this other guy had the same initials, so people too lazy to look deeply into the matter kept thinking that the other dude was the self-exclusion litigant. (I can sympathize, being frequently confused by the unwashed masses with Japan Airlines.) The court rendered a Solomonic decision: the name of the original litigant would not be revealed (in keeping with the anonymity promised to those who place themselves on New Jersey's self-exclusion list), but the court officially affirmed that the "initial" gambler was someone other than the later complainant.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Making Self-Exclusion Work Better

While Vice Squad is a big proponent of the principle of vice self-exclusion programs, the practice in US casinos leaves much to be desired. It seems to be relatively easy, for instance, for some self-excluded gamblers to return to a casino without much hindrance. A check of IDs for all gamblers, or a more universal use of smart cards that hook into gambling machines, might help to make self-exclusion programs more reliable.

One of the standard features of a self-exclusion program is that someone who has volunteered to join the excluded ranks is removed from the list of those who are sent promotional material. This is another area of slippage between theory and practice, apparently. The Illinois Gaming Board is fining a casino $800,000 for not sealing off the self-excluded from marketing appeals. The same casino received a $600,000 fine for similar activities two years ago. I would think that these significant fines will concentrate casino minds on providing a more effective barrier between their promotions and self-excluded gamblers.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Hey, I Am Not That Self-Exclusion Guy...

...I am a different self-exclusion guy. Recently, a man from Delaware wanted to remove himself from Atlantic City's gambling self-exclusion list, in part because he found that the privately-owned AC casinos also barred him from their establishments in other locales. There was a fair amount of media (and Vice Squad?) coverage of his case, which he lost, but the excluded gambler was identified only by his initials. It turns out that initials are not like fingerprints, one unique set per person. (Maybe fingerprints are not like fingerprints, either.) A man in Florida has same the initials as the fellow excluded from Atlantic City casinos -- and the Floridian is none too pleased about the publicity surrounding the case. Seems that people keep suspecting that he (the Florida man) is the current litigant -- though he is not. Those folks might be confused because, in addition to the eerie initial coincidence, the Florida man is a known gambler and a former self-excluder, having signed up for a one-year ban in 2003. How to end the confusion? The Florida man wants the court to release the full name of the litigant. But full names are not unique, either....

I like to think of myself as the Self-Exclusion Guy.

Sorry for disappearing under the blogoscope. My temporary relocation has made it hard to participate in Web 2.0.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Self-Exclusion, Unabridged

Vice Squad has something of a fixation with self-exclusion, those programs whereby problem gamblers (or people who fear that they might become problem gamblers) can volunteer to be barred from access to casinos. I have a short article in the Winter, 2008 Milken Institute Review on self-exclusion, arguing that parallel programs should be part of the mix when the currently illegal drugs are legalised. That article was a by-product of a longer paper that I let languish in an unfinished state. But now I have finished it, after a fashion, and posted it on SSRN, free for the downloading. The longer version isn't really all that much longer -- it's 20 pages. If that is too daunting, here's the rather tepid abstract:
Gambling jurisdictions around the world have adopted self-exclusion programs in which gamblers can voluntarily agree to be barred from further gambling. The popularity of self-exclusion stems from its aid in combating problem or pathological gambling, along with its non-coercive nature. To bolster the self-control of problem gamblers, exclusion programs combine physical inaccessibility and reward diminution: bettors are supposed to remain (or be kept) away from gambling sites, and the gambling winnings of excluded bettors can be confiscated. Other elements of program design that can affect the workings of a self-exclusion program include the duration of an exclusion, its revocability, and the breadth of gambling activities to which the prohibition applies. Self-exclusion or broader user licensing programs can be helpful for control of vices other than gambling. I argue that self-exclusion should form an integral component of drug regulatory frameworks that offer substantial improvements over drug prohibition.
The title of the paper is tepid too: "Self-Exclusion". But the ideas, well, they are revolutionary (in a tepid sort of way).

Update: There were some annoying ersatz characters at the beginning of the abstract on the SSRN page, so I just made a bid to remove them. We'll see if this works...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Self-Exclusion is For Keeps in New Jersey

Vice Squad is a longtime fan of self-exclusion programs, those voluntary lists gamblers can join to be barred from entering casinos or collecting significant winnings if they do happen to sneak by. [Self-exclusion could profitably be employed for many vices, even the currently-illegal ones, I maintain.] Nevertheless, there are many ways in which existing self-exclusion programs can be improved, and lots of tricky issues concerning the details of their operation. Two issues concern the length of time over which an exclusion operates, and how to ensure that people do not self-exclude in a moment of intemperance. Both of these issues were under review in a recent New Jersey court case, in which a man was hoping to remove himself from Atlantic City's self-exclusion list. He signed up for a lifetime ban -- New Jersey also allows gamblers to choose one year or five year bans -- which he claims he joined impulsively. The erstwhile gambler was particularly distressed to learn (once he self-excluded) that those corporate Atlantic City casinos would not just exclude him from their Atlantic City locations, but from their casinos worldwide. This is a common practice. The court refused to remove him from the ban, which I think is probably the right decision.

Nevertheless, there are two obvious reforms that can help. First, people considering joining a self-exclusion list should be warned that their action might spillover to other jurisdictions. Second, long-term bans should themselves require a waiting period. A person who approaches a casino about self-exclusion should receive an immediate short-term exclusion, but for a lengthy term, he or she should have to take further action at a later date. (See the Blaszczynski, Ladouceur, and Nower suggestion noted here.) This action probably should be arranged to take place at a non-gambling locale, to reduce temptation.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Pro-Active Self-Exclusion

A couple weeks ago I mentioned my article in the current Milken Institute Review concerning self-exclusion, those systems available in many casinos whereby you can bar yourself from the premises for some period of time. More than 11,000 people have signed up for lifetime bans from riverboat casinos in the state of Missouri. (The voluntary exclusion applies to all of the state's casino boats.) I think that buyer licenses or self-exclusion programs should be part of the regulatory structure when the currently illicit drugs are re-legalized.

I mention in the Milken article that self-exclusion programs do not have to be passive. Casino employees or representatives of the gambling commission can keep their eye on potential problem gamblers, and hold an impromptu chat with them. (Attendance records and betting information from frequent-player programs also can be put to use for this purpose.) This sort of pro-active mechanism is used at Dutch casinos, and many of those gamblers who are approached for a chat choose to self-exclude. I think that active self-exclusion (and involuntary exclusion for bad actors) might be a good idea when drugs become legal, too, as I note in the Milken piece:
Individuals who misbehave under the influence of the drug would have their licenses revoked, or be involuntarily placed on the excluded list. One could even imagine a requirement of annual evaluations for drug-license holders to determine how they are coping with the drug, and to counsel lower limits, complete self-exclusion or treatment admission for those whose drug use appears to be getting the better of them. That is, self-exclusion could be active, like at Dutch casinos, and drug sellers could be drafted into the activity of barring their best customers – a far cry from their current behavior.
When I first mentioned the Milken article, I noted an unfortunate typo in the second word. I just downloaded a pdf from the website, however, and I find that the typo has been repaired! (Somehow it hadn't occurred to me that this alteration was possible -- in a lifetime of typos, what is one more? -- so I did not contact the relevant authorities.) Bravo, Milken Institute Review!

Monday, February 4, 2008


Just a few days ago I called for the US military to set up a self-exclusion system for the slot machines that it operates on some of its foreign bases. (No word back yet -- apparently they have higher priorities.) But this whole self-exclusion thing is really catching on. Check out the fine article (available from this page after free registration) in the current Milken Institute Review. The author notes -- oh, wait, I am the author. I note that self-exclusion systems typically combine two features, physical unavailability and reward diminution. In the case of casinos, the physical unavailability is supposed to come about when the casino bouncers prevent you from entering their fine establishment, or even have you charged with trespassing (as happens in some jurisdictions) when you try to evade your voluntarily chosen personal ban. Reward diminution occurs when you find, once you have managed to slip past security, that you will not be allowed to collect large jackpots. I don't think that self-exclusion systems currently work all that well in US casinos -- the system is better in the Netherlands -- but I think the general notion of self-exclusion holds significant potential. In particular, I think that when the currently illegal drugs are legalized, some sort of self-exclusion system -- perhaps licenses for drug users, and a chosen purchase limit -- will (and generally should) be part of the mix.

The Milken Institute Review article starts off with a delightful anecdote (by golly, it is delightful) about famed poet and opium addict Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who tried (unsuccessfully) to set up his own self-exclusion system by hiring goons to bar his entrance into pharmacies. (At the time in the UK, opium was legally available without a prescription.) When Coleridge really wanted opium, however, he would fire his agents on the spot, leaving them befuddled as to whether to obey the previous or the current Coleridge.

It is embarrassing when you make an error on the second page of a long publication. How about the second word? Somehow in the relating of this delightful anecdote, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was rendered, in large font, as Samuel Tyler Coleridge. Sigh. [Update: the wonderful folks at the Milken Institute Review corrected the typo, without bidding!]

Vice Squad has spoken about self-exclusion occasionally in the past, and hopes to speak more in the future -- assuming physical inaccessibility and reward diminution do not kick in.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

US Military Gambling

Stars and Stripes has been investigating gambling on US military bases abroad. It turns out that in places like South Korea and Germany, there are slot machines located on-base:

The U.S. Army and Air Force generated more than $83.6 million in revenue via 1,191 slot machines in South Korea in fiscal 2007, according to data provided by the Army’s Family MWR [Morale, Welfare and Recreation] Command and the Air Force Personnel Center.

The Army, which also runs the machines on Navy facilities in South Korea, earned the lion’s share: about $73.5 million with 927 machines. As a comparison, the Army’s 1,550 machines in Europe, including machines the service runs on Air Force and Navy installations, brought in $38.5 million during the same time period.

South Koreans are not supposed to gamble on US military bases but it appears that some of that revenue did come from officially-ineligible Koreans. Some of the revenue comes from military personnel or family members who gamble pathologically.

At least one congressman wants to put an end to on-base gambling. I have some sympathy for that point of view, but I also have another suggestion. Require every person who wants to gamble at an on-base facility to have pre-committed to a daily, weekly, and monthly (and possibly annual) total bet limit. Rig the slots so that they only operate when the player inserts his card into the relevant card reader, so that the previously recorded betting limits can be enforced electronically. (That is, the betting limit cards are like "frequent player cards" that casinos use to track betting and to target freebies.) A gambler who is afraid of his own susceptibilities to addiction can then choose low limits, or even totally self-exclude by not acquiring a card with limits in the first place. This voluntary system is not foolproof, but it is helpful. If this suggestion is seen as too tepid, then the limits can be chosen by the military.

Back in 2005, the New York Times explored some of the problems associated with gambling on US military bases abroad.