Offering registration at the casinos has several advantages, Wetherell said.
They're open every day, including weekends, for extended hours, she said. Also, offering the sign-out option inside casinos allows problem gamblers the opportunity to act on an impulse to ban themselves, instead of making them wait to sign out, she said.
Still, lottery officials recognize the problems that can arise when the nearest place for a person to register is a casino, Wetherell said. "We have had discussions since the program began to expand sites," she said.
The state may consider allowing county health departments to administer the registration, Wetherell said.
Joanna Franklin, president of the Maryland Council on Problem Gambling, said it is going to take some time before Maryland is able to identify and address the program's pitfalls because it is still ramping up.
Franklin said she would like to see the enrollment options change. Applicants in Maryland must choose whether they want to be banned from the state's casinos for either two years or the rest of their lives.
Participants who elect two-year bans are not automatically dropped after 24 months. They must apply to be removed from the list and demonstrate that they have undergone counseling. A lottery official makes the final decision whether the participant may be removed.
"A year is an easier bite to take for something like that than two years," Franklin said.
She said she'd prefer shorter exclusion options — six months, say — so people may take a "time out" from gambling.
Others criticize anything but a lifetime exclusion.
"This is the most powerful addiction … without putting anything in your body," said Arnie Wexler, a nationally recognized gambling addiction counselor based in New Jersey. "Compulsive gamblers must chase. They chase wins, they chase losses. They chase that the rest of their life."
If a person on the exclusion list is caught in a Maryland casino, he or she is subject to arrest for trespassing. Because of the program's confidentiality, it's unclear whether any of the seven violations to date resulted in misdemeanor trespassing charges. If convicted a person faces a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $500.
"It keeps me from going," Bob said. If, instead of arresting violators, "they just escorted you to the entrance, I don't think that would be enough to stop quite a few people," he added.
Another problem with Maryland's voluntary exclusion program is the minimal responsibility placed on the casinos, said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling.
Maryland's casinos are not checking IDs at the door against the exclusion list, so access to the casino is actually not restricted, he explained.
"You're only positively ID'd when you win a jackpot," Whyte said. "As long as they go back and lose, the casinos and the regulators don't care."
Under the Maryland program, people who register for the program forfeit any money they win at a Maryland casino after enrollment.
Before collecting large prizes, casino customers are required to identify themselves for tax purposes. It is only during these identifications that someone on the list will likely be flagged by casino staff, Whyte said.
"The Voluntary Exclusion Program was created to help problem gamblers help themselves," according to the Maryland Lottery's materials explaining the 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."
That is backwards, said Whyte, who believes that the burden should be on the casinos to keep compulsive gamblers out.
Many gamblers on exclusion lists actively gamble, Wexler agreed.
The casinos are also supposed to remove the excluded person's information from any direct marketing databases and cancel membership in rewards programs.
Preventing casinos from providing "comps" — free dinners, hotel rooms and tickets to shows, for instance — to compulsive gamblers is the real value of the program, Franklin said.
Removing those incentives may work for some compulsive gamblers, experts say. But voluntary exclusion programs are by no means universally accepted as a solution among gambling addicts.
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."