It’s commonly accepted that iGaming — with its capability for high-speed play and 24/7 accessibility — can pose higher risk of problem gambling than traditional walk-in visits to casinos.
But some Pennsylvania gamblers trying to minimize such risks are learning it’s hard to exclude themselves from online play without also giving up the visits to brick-and-mortar casinos that they might feel able to handle safely.
At the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s monthly meeting on Aug. 17, two different individuals requested removal from the state’s voluntary iGaming self-exclusion list for which they’d signed up. The reason for the requests: Both men found that land-based casinos they had enjoyed in the past were denying them access because their names showed up on the list of people who considered themselves at potential harm if allowed to gamble online.
For both A.G. and L.W. (the full names of individuals with admitted gambling problems are withheld by the gaming board), the board rejected their petitions for removal from interactive gaming self-exclusion. They will have to accept that their status on the list also jeopardizes their ability to enter some of the state’s 16 casinos, which is a decision left up to individual casino operators.
And they’re not the only two gamblers affected in that manner. Earlier in 2022, five other individuals who voluntarily denied themselves the chance to play online made the same plea to leave the list so they could be assured of access to casinos. Each was unanimously denied by the seven-member board without any public discussion by board members concerning the requests.
Many more gamblers may have been surprised or disappointed by casinos in the same manner, without going so far as to file a formal request with the board to undo their enrollment in iGaming exclusion.
Nearly 2,000 are on iGaming exclusion list
From the time casinos were introduced in Pennsylvania in 2006, one way in which the state’s regulator recognized the potential harm of compulsive gambling was by creation of its voluntary self-exclusion list.
Anyone opting to be on it for their own protection acknowledges they can be charged with trespassing if found in a casino, and any winnings they may have attained during their visit are to be forfeited. The gaming board’s communications office reported Tuesday that 10,116 people are currently on that list.
When the state widely expanded legalized gambling through 2017 legislation, especially into the online aspects, it created three more self-exclusion lists. The gaming board now maintains one list for people to remove themselves from the iGaming opportunities for online casino or sports betting, with 1,934 now on that list; another list to be excluded from truck stop VGT access, with 785 names on it; and an additional list to self-exclude from fantasy sports contests, which has 448 individuals on it.
It’s the people excluding themselves from the iGaming list — for a period they choose of one year, five years, or a lifetime — who have been trying to get the board’s attention to their apparently unanticipated plight, to no avail.
According to staff testimony at last week’s board hearing, A.G. signed up Feb. 25 for a one-year iGaming exclusion, only to file the next month requesting removal. Part of the reason he cited was his family would be unable to take a planned trip to a Caesars property in Las Vegas, as his “Diamond member” account with it — most likely through the Caesars-owned Harrah’s Philadelphia property — had been deactivated, with the operator saying he would not be welcome to stay in its hotels.
The staff attorney, referring to A.G., said his petition “stated that conditions placed on him as a result of signing up on the interactive self-exclusion list are hidden in the self-exclusion forms and that the forms are misleading, and therefore he was not fully aware of the ramifications of placing himself on the self-exclusion list.”
Others have had the same complaint, including T.R.D., a woman denied removal from the list at July’s board meeting. T.R.D. testified at a hearing, according to a staff description, that “she wanted to exclude only from online gambling because it’s so easy to gamble on the phone. She had lost a significant amount of money in a short time, and she wanted to stop herself from gambling before it became a problem.”
But T.R.D. also wanted to be able to enter casinos, even if just to attend social functions with relatives, and she had been denied. As with others, the board kept her on the exclusion list, for which she had signed up for a year’s duration last December.
Website warns about this possibility, but …
The board’s decisions on the self-exclusion requests have followed the recommendations of its staff, which has noted that information provided online or in person to those enrolling on the list does state that casinos have the option of acting on their own to exclude people who sign up for online exclusion.
At responsibleplay.pa.gov, the board’s website devoted to information about problem gambling generally and the self-exclusion process specifically, it highlights the question: “Does self-exclusion from iGaming apply to other forms of gambling?” It provides the following answer:
“No. The PGCB’s iGaming self-exclusion list does not ban player participation in all Pennsylvania gambling venues. However, gaming providers may have stricter self-exclusion policies, including banning self-excluded patrons from all forms of gambling at their venues (casino gaming, horse racing, iGaming in other jurisdictions).”
None of the information provided identifies policies of specific casinos, since those decisions are left up to the operators. In what can be a stressful moment at which someone decides to place themselves on an exclusion list, it’s possible that they are not fully or clearly reading every line of information available about the result of their decision. In the second case decided last week by the board, L.W. himself had stated “he did not fully understand the terms of the exclusion” and acknowledged “he should have paid more attention to the ramifications of enrollment,” according to staff testimony.
Based on the various appeals presented to the board this year, Wind Creek Bethlehem, the Rivers Casinos, and the Live! casinos would apparently join Harrah’s/Caesars among those that have advised individuals on the iGaming exclusion list to stay off their properties.
One man on the five-year self-exclusion list whose case was heard by the board in March reported that he not only was evicted from Live! Philadelphia when showing up there after his name made the list, but he was sent notices unsolicited by multiple casinos saying he would not be admitted to their properties.
Each individual has a decision to make
Of course, people who are clearly adults don’t need to show identification when entering Pennsylvania casinos, so it is possible to enter a gaming floor without being spotted as someone on an exclusion list. Such individuals are at risk, however, of sacrificing any winnings if they are identified through use of a player loyalty card or by hitting a sizable jackpot that triggers a formal record for tax purposes.
Considering how popular online gaming has become to complement casino visitation in the state, it is likely that the gaming board will be hearing from many more such individuals in the future. It also seems likely it will keep turning them down, for what it believes is their own good.
When asked by Penn Bets what the state regulator would recommend to individuals who worry about the risk of online play but still want to be able to walk into casinos, gaming board spokesman Doug Harbach said, “That’s a decision each individual needs to make for themselves. Licensees (the casino operators) are able to cross-ban and there is no circumvention to those policies. Individuals can always do third-party software.”
Harbach was referring to GamBan and other entities that market software tools making it difficult for individuals to access online gaming sites of various kinds, without their needing to sign on to any state list that formally excludes them. Also, the various online sites do offer options that can limit the time or money spent with them, at maximum amounts voluntarily determined by customers without needing to exclude themselves. The gaming board has reported that use of such tools has increased greatly.