Maryland might drop option of lifetime casino ban

Agency considering change to gamblers' self-exclusion program

September 16, 2014|By Jeff Barker | The Baltimore Sun

Problem gamblers would no longer be able to ban themselves from Maryland casinos for life under a change being considered to a state program designed to protect hundreds of gamblers from themselves.

The Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Control Agency might remove the lifetime self-ban option because of concerns that it is excessive and redundant, Stephen Martino, the agency's director, said Tuesday.

"We're probably going to change the program in the next couple of months," Martino said. "I think what we will probably get to is removing the lifetime option."

Gamblers still could register for a two-year exclusion. After two years, the state requires them to undergo an assessment if they want to be removed from the list. Otherwise, the ban remains.

Given that the two-year ban can be extended automatically, Martino said, a lifetime prohibition might be redundant. "There are some legal concerns about how enforceable the lifetime ban is anyway."

As of Sept. 5, 576 Marylanders had registered for the program, subjecting themselves to potential criminal penalties — including arrests and fines — for entering a casino.

There have been 63 violations since 2011, most in the past year, according to agency records. Typically, the offenders are cited for trespassing.

"There is no facial recognition software that is stopping people at the front door," Martino said. "We find out whether people are on the list when they interact with the casino."

The state's largest casino, Maryland Live, opened in 2012. The newest, Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, opened last month, becoming the state's fifth.

Maryland also has a lottery exclusion list. Those on the list are required to forfeit any prize winnings.

As casinos have proliferated, a number of states have instituted voluntary exclusion programs offering prohibitions of varying periods.

"We recommend a two-year ban," said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. "A lifetime ban may dissuade a fair number of people. It sets a very, very high bar when it is irrevocable."

There might be 150,000 people with gambling problems in Maryland, Whyte said.

"Until outpatient treatment is widely available and funded by the state, self-exclusion cannot be fully effective," he said.

Maryland's self-exclusion program does not include treatment. The state promotes a toll-free help line and a program to train counselors, as well as the voluntary exclusion program.

"I'm impressed with how seriously [the self-ban] program is being implemented here in Maryland," said Lori Rugle, program director for the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling. "For those caught re-entering casinos, they are taken to court and they are advised of counseling that is available."

jebarker@baltsun.com

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