Sunday, February 28, 2010

Winnings Confiscated From Excluded Gambler

An enforced order for self-exclusion from a casino can be very effective at bolstering the willpower to refrain from gambling. The effectiveness comes from two features of self-exclusion, physical inaccessibility and reward diminution. Physical inaccessibility arises because the casino tries to keep you out, and in many jurisdictions can charge you with trespassing if you show up on their property. Reward diminution arises, in part, because the casino can confiscate any large jackpots that you might win, if you successfully sneak back in.

The legal basis for casinos to take away an excluded gambler's winnings, however, is not completely settled. (The casinos generally can't keep the confiscated winnings; rather, they are donated to a charity, perhaps one involved with fighting pathological gambling.) In Iowa, the state Supreme Court recently overturned a lower court ruling, deciding that a casino was within its rights to refuse to hand over winnings of over $9,000 to an excluded gambler. This particular gambler, however, was not self-excluded: he had been permanently barred from the casino following a conviction for criminal mischief arising from an incident where he attacked a slot machine.

The casino in question was in the news again last week, with exclusion again featuring as part of the story. The allegation is that a man made a bomb threat against the casino after he was refused admission because he did not show a picture ID. A requirement that casino patrons present IDs, incidentally, is very helpful in enforcing exclusion bans. Another helpful feature is US federal tax law, that requires withholding and form-filling before slot machine winnings of $1,200 or more can be paid. It was the necessity to fill out the tax paperwork that led to the excluded gambler's identification in the incident that the Iowa Supreme Court recently ruled upon.

Singapore Exclusion List Grows

Singapore's first destination-style casino opened in February, 2010, so the self-exclusion program that the government had established for permanent residents and citizens (but not for non-resident foreigners) has become relevant. As of last week, 264 people had applied for self-exclusion. A second resort casino in Singapore is now scheduled to open in April, and the exclusion orders will apply to both locations.

Beyond standard self-exclusion, Singapore offers "Family Exclusion" possibilities: a close family member can apply to have another family member excluded from the casinos. The application sets in motion an inquiry, and if a panel decides that the gambler in question is engaged in problem gambling, the exclusion will be granted -- even if the decision is counter to the wishes of the gambler him or herself. So far, 31 people have been excluded through this family intervention process.

The new casino allows people to pre-specify loss limits, but so far, no customers have imposed them. For internet gambling, I think there is something to be said for mandatory choice of pre-specified loss limits, as well as time constraints.

What's Going On Here?

This blog concerns self-exclusion -- so at least it is appropriately named. The term derives from the option provided by many gambling locales for people to voluntarily commit to not gambling at those locales. The concept is broader, however, and this blog is interested in self-commitment devices (especially those employed for self-denial) more generally.

The fourteen posts that precede this one were imported to Self-Exclusion from my old blog, Vice Squad. From here on, though, it is all exciting and new. Or at least new.

Here's a working paper that provides some background. Here's an even more fun (or at least shorter) background article (6-page pdf).

Why this blog? Ironically, it is intended to serve as a sort of commitment device to track self-exclusion. We'll see how well this particular commitment device pans out...