Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Committing Not to Procrastinate...

...or committing to write? A couple years ago Self-Exclusion used the example of a week-long dissertation writing-lock-in, one with $50 at stake for the volunteer participants, to muse on positive and negative commitments, commitments to do something versus commitments to refrain from doing something. A similar writing event was hosted by the University of Chicago this summer -- one of four now held every year. A new wrinkle is that the write-in was held off-campus, which presumably puts the usual quotidian distractions of the participating graduate students somewhat out of reach. After the four hours of work are complete, there's a lunchtime program:
The common barriers to writing—perfectionism and daily distractions—fall away through the program’s rigid structure and community spirit. During the lunch break, speakers from the many offices on campus that serve graduate students address common questions and problems, such as how to submit a dissertation or where to go for career advice on campus.
The community spirit angle is interesting, as it is a dimension that is missing from garden-style casino self-exclusion. It is a commonplace that gambling exclusion works better when it is paired with a treatment regimen, and perhaps the treatment in part serves as a source of social support.

Once again, $50 is at stake for the dissertation writers, and one of those lunchtime services consists of a free massage. Further, in what surely is a major incentive for U of C graduate students, those who put in the 20 hours of interruption-free work during the week receive a Latin-inscripted tee shirt:
And if the satisfaction of marching toward that PhD weren’t enough reward, the students who complete each session get a T-shirt from Graduate Student Affairs that says scribo, ergo conficiam—“I write, therefore I finish.”

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Illinois Video Gaming Terminals

The state of Illinois is rolling out legal Video Gaming Terminals (VGTs); soon they will number in the thousands, placed in bars and restaurants and bowling alleys and so on. VGTs will not be available everywhere in Illinois, however, as many municipalities, including Chicago, have opted out.

The machines are limited to a payout of $500; one credit can cost no more than 25 cents, and a single play (multiple lines are available) cannot put the gambler back more than $2. (The technical standards (38-page pdf here) surprisingly make for some interesting reading: no "near misses," for instance (page 24).) But the VGTs are noted on this blog because it appears that there is no self-exclusion program connected to them -- at least I could find no mention of an applicable exclusion program at the relevant sections of the Illinois Gaming Board website. Of course, the scores of small-scale locations -- no venue can have more than 5 VGTs -- makes it harder to enforce a casino-like "no presence and no play" version of self-exclusion. But the Illinois Lottery offers a "no wins" version that is considerably easier to implement, even if it is far from foolproof: when a self-excluded player tries to collect a large win, the necessity to provide a social security number presents the enforceable moment. Why not something like that for VGTs, requiring identification, say, to collect wins of $100 or more?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Self-Exclusion as an Ineffective Substitute for Self-Control?

Gambling self-exclusion programs prominently indicate that the responsibility to avoid gambling remains with the gambler, not with the program. For example, from the state of Maryland's Voluntary Exclusion Program: "The responsibility for staying out of Maryland casinos rests solely on the individual who voluntarily excludes and not with the Maryland Lottery or any Maryland casino." This notion is in keeping with a frequent mantra in addiction treatment, that the addict must accept responsibility for his or her behavior.

I chose the Maryland program because of this article, a version of which appeared on the front page of Sunday's Baltimore Sun (September 9, 2012). The article details the process of signing up for self-exclusion, and the reactions of some of the participants. One problem the gamblers identify -- not an uncommon one -- is the difficulty of signing up for self-exclusion at a non-casino location. About 40% of the people who volunteered to be excluded from Maryland casinos are from out of state. Currently, Maryland offers only a two-year ban or a lifetime ban; reinstatement following the end of the two-year ban requires some hoop-jumping: an application for reinstatement and evidence that the gambler has received counseling.

The Sun article concludes with an interesting observation from one gambling addict:
Bill S., a 48-year-old compulsive gambler from Fells Point who attends Gamblers Anonymous meetings in Towson, is among the contingent who believe that gambling addiction cannot be dealt with by external constraints. Especially when casinos are such a small piece of legal gambling in Maryland.
"I refuse to do it on principle," Bill said. "What am I going to do? Ban myself from all the gas stations and bars? Ban myself from the grocery store? If you want to stop gambling, it has to come from inside."
Bill identifies a dilemma of sorts. While self-exclusion has shown that it can be very effective for many disordered gamblers, it is never perfectly enforced, nor can it shut the door to all wagering opportunities. (Further, many (possibly most?) problem gamblers move away from problem gambling over time, without self-exclusion or indeed without any treatment -- natural recovery is common among addicts of all stripes.) For some subset of problem gamblers, self-exclusion, even if it works in keeping them away from excluded sites, may indeed undermine their internal mechanisms for controlling their gambling, mechanisms that might be needed for those non-excluded opportunities. As John Stuart Mill noted, "In many cases, though individuals may not do the particular thing so well, on the average, as the officers of government, it is nevertheless desirable that it should be done by them, rather than by the government, as a means to their own mental education—a mode of strengthening their active faculties, exercising their judgment, and giving them a familiar knowledge of the subjects with which they are thus left to deal." Do those problem gamblers who are most susceptible to the erosion of internal control mechanisms recognize this issue, and, like Bill, refrain from self-exclusion?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Gamblefree Day and Kiwi Third-Party Exclusions

For the last eight years, September 1 has been Gamblefree Day in New Zealand, when problem gambling is highlighted. One of the methods that New Zealand has adopted to combat problem gambling is self-exclusion. The guidelines for exclusion seem very sophisticated, and they include provisions for casinos to involuntarily exclude suspected problem gamblers and for family members and other third parties to raise a call for increased scrutiny that could lead to an involuntary exclusion. As the guidelines note, "One of the most common indicators of problem gambling is notification from a relation, friend or family member of the patron." Many areas of New Zealand allow for multi-venue exclusions. In July, one locale with pokie machines was forced to turn off the machines for two days because a gambler seeking exclusion was not, in fact, excluded.

Skycity operates hotels and casinos in New Zealand. If a Skycity casino wants to exclude a suspected problem gambler, it gives the gambler a chance to voluntarily self-exclude first -- but given that a refusal to self-exclude will lead to an imposed two-year ban, it is hard to endorse the notion that such an exclusion is fully voluntary.

New Zealand also promotes responsible gambling by requiring slot machines to display a clock and the amount won or lost, along with reminders to take breaks.