The Missouri Gaming Commission has voted to make it easier for compulsive gamblers to continue their gambling habit. The Commission has acted to eliminate the state's permanent blacklist for problem gamblers,
officially known as the Voluntary Exclusion Program. Under that program, adopted in 1996, compulsive gamblers could request to be placed on a state registry of "disassociated persons" who are permanently banned from entering the state's licensed casinos.
Officials with the Gaming Commission say that state regulators abolished the blacklist because they viewed it as too harsh. They have now instituted a short-term registry under which compulsive gamblers can seek to be banned from casinos for a period of five years. The
changes will take effect on March 31st of next year.
At that time, 11,247 problem gamblers will once again have unlimited access to Missouri casinos without fear of trespassing charges. Those are the individuals on the current state registry who will have already completed the new five-year waiting period. The state registry presently includes a total of 16,148 self-reported compulsive gamblers.
Under the Voluntary Exclusion Program, Missouri casino operators are required to remove "disassociated persons" from direct marketing promotions such as free
dinners, free hotel visits, and match play coupons. Individuals on the state registry may not participate in "player's clubs" or receive check-cashing privileges. Before a casino operator pays out a jackpot of $1200 or more, they must check the winner's name against the state registry of problem gamblers.
Individuals on the list who are discovered in a casino can be arrested for trespassing, and any winnings they may gain must be forfeited. The Wall Street Journal
reports that 2,400 trespassing arrests have been made at Missouri casinos since November 2008, when gambling loss limits were repealed in a statewide referendum.
LeAnn McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Gaming Commission, says a major reason for the relaxed policy is to encourage more problem gamblers to participate in the program. She says that state officials believe more individuals will agree to a self-imposed ban on entry to casinos if it is not an irreversible lifetime decision.
Keith Spare, chairman of the Missouri Council on Problem Gambling Concerns, believes the policy change is a major setback for those enticed by the allure of casino gambling. "It's going to have a devastating impact for those who are addicted gamblers. Missouri has lots of examples of people who ruined their careers and families because of gambling problems."
Keith Whyte of the National Council on Problem Gambling says that the problem with problem gambler lists is that they are difficult to enforce. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
confirms that concern. The Post
cites a study conducted on Missouri's Voluntary Exclusion Program which showed that at least half of the individuals listed as "disassociated persons" had managed to "sneak back onto a casino floor in Missouri."
The Voluntary Exclusion Program has become a nuisance for casino companies since Missouri voters repealed the state's loss limits in 2008. Prior to that time, casino visitors received "boarding cards" for two-hour blocks of time during which they could lose
no more than $500. Casinos operators were compelled to check identification to enforce the time time limits on losses, and were able to crosscheck the "disassociated persons" list. Now that the loss limits are gone, casino operators don't want to mess with the resources necessary to examine ID's and screen casino visitors.
Gaming Commission spokeswoman LeAnn McCarthy insists that the decision to change the policy had nothing to do with additional profits for the casinos or additional tax income for the state. "Revenue had not one iota involvement in our discussion."
But Mark Andrews, chairman of Casino Watch, doesn't buy it. He says the policy change is just the latest in a string of bait-and-switch tactics by the casino industry. "The bottom line is that the casinos want this ban to go away. They don't want anyone to be banned from a casino."
The Gaming Commission has received letters from those who oppose the more lenient compulsive gambler registry. "My brother is a self-exiled bettor who lost everything he had at the casinos, " one letter writer states. "Now you people are considering dangling a carrot in front of his nose."
Keith White of the National Council on Problem Gambling is concerned about the same thing. "We just hope there's not a notice that comes in the mail reminding them that they're now eligible to gamble again."
, a longtime opponent of predatory gambling practices, concluded a recent editorial on this subject with these comments: "The gaming commission's rule change may get a few more people to ask for help. It also may mean a few more bankruptcies, ruined families, and suicides. As a state, we have decided that this is acceptable collateral damage in return for 11,700 jobs and nearly $500 million a year in state and local revenue. The casinos will make a few more bucks. They always do." For once, we agree with the Post-Dispatch
's "moral" perspective on an issue.
The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) defines "compulsive" or "pathological" gambling as
follows: "A progressive addiction characterized by increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when attempting to stop, and loss of control manifested by continuation of the gambling behavior in spite of mounting serious negative consequences"
You can read more about the psychological, physical, social, vocational, and family hazards of gambling by visiting the NCPG website at this link:NCPG