Friday, January 21, 2011

Does Casino Self-Exclusion Work? (V)

European casinos generally require that patrons provide identification upon entering, and this measure aids enforcement of exclusion orders. (The news is filled with a continuing series of reports of excluded gamblers in other jurisdictions managing to evade, at least for a time, their exclusion orders.) A new article by Tobias Hayer and Gerhard Meyer uses a series of questionnaires to learn about the effectiveness of casino self-exclusion programs in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The results comport well with the findings from prior studies undertaken at other locales: gamblers who choose to self-exclude typically experience significant declines in gambling-related problems, and they tend to view the self-exclusion quite positively. These general findings are complemented by a slew of interesting details, including the importance of other gamblers, family members, and friends in informing people about the existence of self-exclusion programs. Only a relatively small number of gamblers learn of self-exclusion through information displays inside the casinos, suggesting that there is room for improved publicity measures. Casino staff, in these European locations, are nearly twice as likely as passive information displays to be a source of knowledge of the self-exclusion option.

The ID controls in European casinos, and the accompanying increase in the enforceability of an exclusion order, might make self-exclusion more popular as a preventative measure in Europe than elsewhere. About one-quarter of the participants in the study would not be classified as problem or pathological gamblers, by the usual metrics, at the time they chose to exclude.

Hayer and Meyer also indicate that my longstanding belief that formal casino self-exclusion programs originated in Canada in 1989 is terribly misguided. They report that self-exclusion programs existed decades earlier in both Germany and Austria. I will have to do some revising!

Previous (misguided?) posts in this series:

Does Casino Self-Exclusion Work? (IV)

Does Casino Self-Exclusion Work? (III)

Does Casino Self-Exclusion Work? (II)

Does Casino Self-Exclusion Work? (I)

Monday, January 17, 2011

eCOGRA's Safe and Fair Seal Requires Exclusion Options

Internet gambling seems to combine two area of human activity that display more than their share of less-than-trustworthy behavior. Someone interested in placing a bet online could be scared off over the uncertainty surrounding the integrity of the transaction offered by an internet betting shop or casino.

The internet gambling industry recognized their credibility problem at an early stage. One response that they adopted is a form of self-regulation. This response involves a sort of Good Housekeeping seal of approval, and one non-profit, independent (of the online betting shops) organization that awards the e-gambling seals is eCOGRA. To qualify for the right to display a "Safe and Fair" seal, internet gambling providers must meet a host of requirements concerning player protection, fair gaming, and responsible conduct. The detailed guidelines can be found here (49-page pdf). More than 100 e-casinos, internet poker rooms, and e-betting shops, including many of the best-known ones, currently are authorized to display the Safe and Fair seal.

Among the requirements for a Safe and Fair seal is the provision and effective communication of self-exclusion measures. A 24-hour cooling-off option must be available to players, and a six-month or longer exclusion also must be on offer. Third parties can request that a gambler be excluded -- as in Singapore's land-based casinos -- but those requests need not be honored. The guidelines also require, if I understand things correctly, that the gambling sites allow players to establish deposit limits, and to decrease those limits. Requests to increase a deposit limit that previously had been decreased cannot be honored for at least 24 hours. So both self-exclusion and self-limiting features are built into Safe and Fair e-gambling sites. Nevertheless, it does not appear to be the case that a single exclusion request will apply to multiple websites. (A system mentioned earlier had the feature of allowing a single exclusion to be implemented at multiple sites.) An e-gambler hoping to cut off access to his or her vice of choice might have a hard time maintaining enough stamina to self-exclude from dozens of e-casinos, of course.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Choosing to be Fined for Failure to Quit Smoking

Casino-style self-exclusion presents a physical barrier to further betting, and also lowers the reward to gambling, through the threat of confiscation of winnings (and embarrassment at being caught in violation of the exclusion order). Now-standard(?) commitment contracts implement the reward diminution element, but not the physical unavailability, when it comes to refraining from the undesired behavior.

A recent article by Gine', Karlan, and Zinman (working paper version here) examined a field trial in the Philippines of commitment contracts aimed at smoking cessation. Smokers were offered a chance to conveniently make weekly deposits to an illiquid bank account. (The idea was that they would deposit about the amount they would otherwise spend on cigarettes.) After six months, the depositors who took up this option would be tested to see if they had quit smoking. If they had quit, they would have access to their funds; if not, they would lose the money. The vast majority of smokers who were offered the savings account option refused to take part. Most of those who did take up the commitment contract failed to quit smoking. Nevertheless, quit rates were higher for those offered the savings account option than for those in the control group, and the difference persisted six months later.

Evaluating Improved Self-Exclusion

The heart of self-exclusion programs is the negative commitment, the ban on gambling at the excluded locales. But someone who volunteers for self-exclusion also is in a position to be informed about treatment options, and access to those options can be eased. (Currently, only a small percentage of problem gamblers, and of self-excluders, receive any formal treatment.) A Montreal casino introduced a reinforced self-exclusion program in 2005, one that included an initial evaluation, monthly phone contacts, and a mandatory meeting before the revocation of the exclusion agreement. The new variant was evaluated by Tremblay, Boutin, and Ladouceur in 2008. Given the option of either a standard self-exclusion program or the "improved" version, a majority of excluders chose the improved version. Their gambling problems decreased significantly, and generally they were quite favorably disposed towards the improved self-exclusion regime.