Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gambling Losses, Non-Monetary

We noted recently how problem gamblers not only spend a lot of money gambling, they spend a lot of time gambling. Self-limiting schemes might involve setting time restrictions, as well as money restrictions. Further, time loss might be a spur to self-exclude, as was suggested by this report concerning a Scottish casino located near some institutions of higher learning:
“We have had quite a lot of students self-excluding and it is not always due to the amount of money they are spending, but sometimes the amount of time when it starts interfering with their studies.”
Gambleaware, a British charitable organisation aimed at responsible gambling, offers a time management diary for people looking to control their betting.

Will Problem Gamblers Self-Limit?

Self-exclusion and self-limit programs are aimed at people who have, or fear they might have, self-control problems with wagering. Most of the people who choose to self-exclude do seem to be problem or pathological gamblers. But if you offer a voluntary self-limiting program -- say, the option of making a commitment prior to entering a casino to spend no more than $x there (where the gambler can choose x) -- will people who have gambling problems choose to participate? A recent study by Lia Nower and Alex Blaszczynski suggests that problem gamblers might not be all that eager to take part.

The study looks at 127 adults who, on their way into an Australian casino, agreed to fill out questionnaires. Based on the ensuing self-reports, 20 of these people were categorized as problem gamblers. When asked about whether they would take advantage of "smart card" technology that would allow them to limit their monetary exposure once inside the casino, the problem gamblers were less likely than everyone else to endorse the use of such cards. Further, the problem gamblers who were willing to use the cards were more likely to want the cards to be flexible, so that additional funds could be accessed during a single session or additional cards purchased. This relative reluctance to limit gambling losses is indicated despite the fact that problem gamblers also were the most likely to lose track of their monetary situation (money won or lost) during a gambling session.

Many gamblers who self-exclude do so only after wagering has wreaked havoc upon their lives. Does a lack of sophistication by problem gamblers about their own future self-control issues suggest the desirability of a mandatory regime of limit setting, such as that maintained at Svenska Spel's internet poker facility?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Self-Limits in Internet Gambling

Responsible internet casinos follow the lead of their terrestrial counterparts by offering a self-exclusion option -- and many of the programs are tied together, so that one application results in exclusion from myriad gambling sites. Furthermore, options for partial exclusions also can be made available -- as with Sweden's Svenska Spel.

In 2008, addiction researchers published an article that looked at the behavior of internet gamblers who took advantage of a self-limiting option. (The article grew out of an ongoing research collaboration between web gaming company bwin and the Division on Addictions associated with Harvard Medical School.) Daily (1000 euros) and monthly (5000 euros) deposit limits are imposed by bwin, but internet gamblers are allowed to choose lower limits. (The 1000 and 5000 euro limits were those in place at the time of the study.) At least for the sample used in the article, the vast majority of gamblers on bwin chose not to establish their own limits. Those who did self-limit, however, tended to decrease the frequency of their betting and the amount wagered. More than 10 percent of self-limiters abstained completely (from gambling with bwin) after imposing the limits; more than 7 percent imposed limits before they placed their first bet.

The authors point out that the time devoted to gambling can be as big a problem for some people as monetary losses. Self-limiting programs could invoke time constraints, on a per session, per-day, per-month (and so on) basis. (Come to think of it, something that limited my time on the internet to two hours per day might make my life better...)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Self-exclusion orders often are limited in duration and in geographic scope, but they are otherwise categorical: an excluded person cannot gamble at all at a place from which he or she has chosen to exclude. In that sense, self-exclusion is an all-or-nothing proposition: either you can gamble under the same regime that governs everyone, or you cannot engage in gambling.

Lots of folks who fear their loss of self-control, however, might not want to renounce their vice of choice entirely. For these people, rules that allow limited indulgence, as opposed to enforcing abstinence, might be preferable to self-exclusion. Many people try to adopt and enforce such rules on their own, through two-drink limits or by only carrying a small amount of cash into a casino. But in the case of gambling, casinos can help, and sometimes they do, by offering special rules, such as voluntary credit limits or opt-outs from gambling on credit altogether. Further, the regulatory structure surrounding gambling can provide some limits, of the not-so-voluntary variety. Until recently, Missouri casinos had a loss limit of $500 per two hours, and $6000 per day (that would be a sufficiently bad day for me). To enforce the limit, every casino-goer needed to present an ID, and would be issued a boarding card. The boarding card would have to be swiped at buy-ins for table games and inserted in a reader during play at electronic games, so that the limit could be enforced. One side effect of operating with mandatory loss limits was that self-exclusion orders could be policed more easily, thanks to the ID requirement. It might be the case that the Missouri self-exclusion program is being undermined by the repeal of the loss-limit regulation.

More on self-limiting behavior in future posts, I hope.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Exclusion By NGO in Macau?

For a place that does a huge gambling business, Macau seems a bit behind the curve in self-exclusion. Apparently only 72 people are part of the state-sponsored program, according to this article in the Macau Daily Times. (Some Macau casinos are connected to global businesses that run their own self-exclusion programs.) But these 72 are not all self-excluded. Rather, like Singapore, Macau allows for family-initiated exclusions. And in one respect, Macau goes further than Singapore: exclusion orders can start from requests by reputable non-governmental organizations:
Director of DICJ, Manuel das Neves, explained to Macau Daily Times the law “is not clear” on what type of exclusions can be imposed besides self-exclusion. So, the Government tries to be flexible about it, accepting also applications presented by relatives – with medical proofs of the person’s pathology - and “credible” and recognized NGOs. Among the latter are organisations from Hong Kong, who have requested that some residents from the neighbouring region are not allowed in Macau casinos.
In the meantime, Singapore's second resort casino, Marina Bay Sands, opened for business last week. Some excluded gamblers in Singapore, as elsewhere, try to defy their bans.

Monday, May 3, 2010

More Casino Exclusion Noncompliance

As effective as casino self-exclusion can be for combating pathological gambling, its implementation often leaves something to be desired: gamblers in some jurisdictions repeatedly enter casinos from which they have excluded without being removed. Recently, casinos in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have been fined for allowing self-excluded individuals to gamble. The transgressive customer in New Jersey used aliases to set up frequent player accounts: thirteen of his fifteen aliases were spotted by the casinos, but two "worked." While the two New Jersey casinos were fined $10,000 each for allowing this self-excluded, pseudonymous person to gamble, they were "allowed to keep the more than $87,000 he lost while gambling there because they did not knowingly allow an excluded player to gamble, the commission said." The self-excluded generally are drawn from the pool of a casino's best customers.