What’s Good & Bad About PA’s New Online Gambling Self-Exclusion Program

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It wasn’t too long ago that responsible gaming was an afterthought in gambling legislation. Fortunately, times are changing.

Responsible gaming policies are now accepted as a cornerstone of good gambling legislation. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of work to be done.

One example of both the good and the bad is the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s (PGCB) new online gambling self-exclusion program.

Let’s start with the good

There’s a lot to like about Pennsylvania‘s self-exclusion program. Not least of which is the ability to self-exclude online, through the PGCB website.

Online exclusion eliminates the feeling of embarrassment often associated with in-person self-exclusion.

Another commendable aspect is the choice. Pennsylvania offers one-year, five-year and lifetime exclusions. There’s also a shorter, less formal “cooling-off period” for online players that can be activated through the online gambling website.

Marlene Warner, the executive director of Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, explained to Play Pennsylvania how choice is an important element to a successful responsible gaming program.

“I think it is extremely useful that we give them multiple options in terms of term length. Currently, we offer them six months, one year, three years, five years and, if they complete one of those terms, then lifetime.”

As you’ll see in a moment, Warner believes having a choice is an essential concept throughout a responsible gaming program.

Where the new Pennsylvania responsible gaming policy falls short

Unfortunately, the new self-exclusion system falls short in one key area. The program doesn’t include a blanket exclusion from gambling in the state.

To be fair, burdensome and partial self-exclusion isn’t an issue that’s unique to Pennsylvania. It’s a longstanding problem in the gambling world.

In November 2017, Keith Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), told Play NJ:

“We’re big believers in voluntary harmonization. As a NGO that works with — operators, regulators, vendors, manufacturers, gamblers, the whole nine — we can devise some voluntary national standards by bringing all these stakeholders together and then encourage all these same groups to utilize these standards in their operations, regulations and product design.”

While PA’s online self-exclusion program does cover all PA online gambling sites, it doesn’t extend to land-based casino gambling, daily fantasy sports (DFS) or online lottery.

So, rather than a streamlined process that would simplify the self-exclusion process, Pennsylvania is making self-exclusion extremely cumbersome.

How many times do I have to self-exclude?

In order to self-exclude from all of the state’s gambling options, a person would have to file for self-exclusion separately from:

And that’s just Pennsylvania. According to Whyte, there are nearly 1,000 gaming regulatory agencies overseeing commercial and tribal gaming, each with its own rules and lists.

In the same day, a Philadelphia resident could conceivably:

  • Visit a Pennsylvania land-based casino.
  • Drive an hour or so to an Atlantic City land-based casino.
  • Stop at convenience stores along the way to put in his or her Pennsylvania and New Jersey lottery numbers.
  • Gamble online in New Jersey.

This same gambler can now also bet sports online in NJ and PA, play DFS, or play online lottery games in PA. Our fictitious gambler would need to self-exclude from nearly every activity independently.

Custom exclusion would also help

Another deficiency in the PA self-exclusion program is it doesn’t allow a gambler to customize what and where they’re excluding. Once again, the choice would be the best policy, and more choice (this time, the option to not exclude) is something that could make self-exclusion more appealing to more people.

Some people may only struggle with certain forms of casino or online gambling, e.g., a poker player who can’t resist the lure of the pits after a few drinks or the sports bettor who wants to stop receiving slot machine promotions.

Unfortunately, right now, it’s all or nothing.

“In Massachusetts, we have a statewide VSE and, if we get sports betting, we’d recommend that patrons be given the option to opt-in to the same VSE system,” Warner said. “Same for online. What I’d say is that they should be able to have one process, but if technology allows, give them the option to check which types of gaming from which they can exclude.”

Warner also noted that the 100% prohibition on all gambling (including the loss of any rewards points) could be a bridge too far for some gamblers.

“What we know anecdotally and from a small study done in Massachusetts is that people want to redeem points (which they automatically lose when they VSE), they want to be able to visit properties that are in Vegas and more vacation locations (often the companies will extend the VSE through all of their properties), and/or they want to still be able to visit restaurants and/or shows on property in their local jurisdiction.  I would also say most gamble with someone else and they don’t want that person to know that their gambling is out of control.”

Several solutions exist

Casinos can get proactive

Casinos could take matters into their own hands.

In a Q&A section on the PGCB website, it notes that operators can go above and beyond the PGCB policy, and exclude gamblers from multiple venues and/or jurisdictions:

The PGCB’s “iGaming Self-Exclusion List” does not ban player participation in all PA gambling venues. However, gaming providers may have stricter self-exclusion policies, including banning self-excluded persons from all forms of gambling at their venues (casino gaming, horse racing, iGaming in other jurisdictions.)

Warner told Play Pennsylvania the state of Massachusetts is working on a regional VSE program, that allows people to self-exclude from all the regional casinos: Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. That’s something operators could push other states to do.

Technology can help

There’s also a product called GameSecure, which has been endorsed by the NCPG.

GameSecure allows gamblers to self-exclude from all online gambling sites in a jurisdiction at the same time, rather than having to self-exclude from each company’s site one-by-one, or in the case of PA, from each gambling vertical.

The root of the problem: stigma

Then there’s the stigma of self-excluding that Warner alluded to–not wanting others to know your gambling has gotten out of control.

Warner explained how the GameSense program instituted in Massachusetts has been a rousing success and is helping remove the stigma.

“We truly believe that one of the most amazing parts about how we run the GameSense Information Centers in Massachusetts is that our GameSense Advisors (GSAs) do almost all of the VSEs.  What is amazing about that is that they have a customer-centered approach and can spend as much time as is needed with the patron.  They are able to really find out what the issues are and direct them to resources outside of the casino that can be specifically useful for their circumstance.  We also are training VSE agents that are clinicians so that they can do them as part of the clinical efforts.”

Steve Ruddock

About

Steve Ruddock is an avid poker player and a veteran member of the gaming media. His primary focus is on the regulated US online casino and poker markets. He writes for numerous online and print publications, including OnlinePokerReport.com, USPoker.com, and USA Today.

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