PA All Alone For Now In Program To Keep Excessive Online Gamblers From Crossing Borders To Play

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In the first three months of a new responsible gambling program known as PlayPause, created for those with addiction issues to stop themselves from gaining online access in multiple states, more than 70 Pennsylvanians signed up.

The only problem is the program has no effect as of yet, as no state besides Pennsylvania has yet enrolled in it.

The lack of participation by other states means that any compulsive gambler signing up for self-exclusion from iGaming in Pennsylvania — blocking themselves from the state’s iCasino and sports betting sites — can still cross the border into a state such as New Jersey and tap their smartphone to gamble on sites there.

It’s a temporary hiccup, say representatives of the Pennsylvania Gaming and Control Board and of Conscious Gaming, the nonprofit organization that launched PlayPause in December. The program’s aim is to have a national system of self-exclusion as a more comprehensive means of helping problem gamblers than the state-by-state lists that now exist.

Seth Palansky, a spokesman for Conscious Gaming, credited Pennsylvania for being the first state to recognize the potential value and said others are expected to join in coming months.

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“We are in active discussions with several states and the response has been very positive,” said Palansky, whose group was created by the GeoComply company.

“We feel very good about the tenor of discussions, and there is clear recognition of the need,” he said. “There is a strong acknowledgement that to properly help problem gamblers, a need to take a bigger view and extend protections across state borders is critical. We’re very confident we will get broad PlayPause adoption.”

Numbers aren’t large, but still a surprise

Not everyone who signs up for Pennsylvania’s self-exclusion from iGaming also registers in the PlayPause program as an additional step. In fact, it’s a minority who do so, though that’s not a surprise to Elizabeth Lanza, director of compulsive and problem gambling programs for the state gaming board.

In the three months after PlayPause enrollments were made possible on Dec. 23, only 76 of 240 individuals signed up for it when registering themselves for self-exclusion from online and mobile phone gambling within Pennsylvania, Lanza said. Any new program takes time to build awareness, she noted, and registering 25 per month in PlayPause was more than she was expecting.

“It’s not huge numbers, but it’s a surprise,” Lanza said, while acknowledging, “until other jurisdictions sign on, there is no impact. … We’re waiting for other jurisdictions to come on board.”

Creating a process for voluntary self-exclusion by addicted gamblers is one of the most effective ways a state can try to control the problem. In Pennsylvania, there are separate lists for people to block themselves from the online versions of gambling compared to land-based casinos.

Lanza said 760 individuals are on the iGaming exclusion list, compared to more than 16,000 who have banned themselves from casinos in the much longer period those have operated in Pennsylvania. In either case, the individual is basically admitting they feel powerless to control their own gambling habit, and they need help from someone else to prevent them from indulging.

The gaming board’s website has an online form to register so that the iCasino and online sports betting operators will know not to register new accounts or accept wagering from those going on the list.

Lanza said she has no idea how many such individuals might have accounts in other states or be tempted to cross borders to create them, but it’s something she hopes all states will recognize as a potential problem.

“We jumped on board [with PlayPause] just as soon as they contacted us and explained the process and we had our legal team look at it,” Lanza said. “I feel this was a piece we were missing as regulators.”

In pursuit of 100% adoption

Some two dozen states have legalized sports betting over the past three years, with most of them allowing an online/mobile version of it that greatly enhances the ability to make such wagers. A smaller number allow iCasinos similar to Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but the number is growing.

While states typically acknowledge potential problems by adopting some form of responsible gambling program, or expanding one they already have, there’s no government-backed national effort on the issue. The PlayPause program is one way of trying to fill the void.

Palansky said efforts are ongoing with not just state regulators but the operators, the professional sports leagues, and gaming platform suppliers to make them aware of the program’s potential and encourage their backing.

“For it to be truly effective for consumers, it needs to have 100 percent adoption,” he said. “A problem gambler in the midst of addiction will seek out a place to gamble. So we won’t rest until we have the entire industry signed up and contributing to PlayPause, so we can truly build the protections consumers need.”

Tools available to iGaming customers also help

In the meantime, Lanza credited not just self-exclusion but the responsible gambling tools that online operators are required to provide to consumers as another way she believes people are being helped.

The online casinos and sportsbooks are expected to make it easy for their customers to set limits on how much they deposit or wager and how much time they spend on the sites. And thousands of people are making use of those options in Pennsylvania.

Data provided to the gaming board by operators indicates that in February, 43,226 player accounts made some use of self-imposed limits. Lanza said she had no information on how many such accounts exist, which would show what percentage of customers make use of the options.

The most common tool used is a deposit limit, which was accessed by 28,673 Pennsylvania customers in February, according to the data. Among other options used:

  • 7,575 players made use of a self-suspension, or “cool-down” period, to temporarily keep themselves from playing.
  • 3,848 made use of a wagering limit.
  • 2,145 accessed a time-based limit to stop them from gambling after a designated period of time on the site.
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Gary Rotstein

Gary is a longtime journalist, having spent three decades covering gambling, state government, and other issues for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in addition to stints as managing editor of the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette and as a reporter for United Press International and the Middletown (Conn.) Press. Contact Gary at gary@usbets.com.

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