Voluntary Exclusion Programs in U.S. Gaming

States make self-exclusion programs confusing with complicated regs and hoops to jump through. Richard Schuetz says keep it simple, stupid.

Voluntary Exclusion Programs in U.S. Gaming

“Government’s first duty is to protect people, not to run their lives.”

—Ronald Reagan

I was once invited to fly to Singapore to give a lecture on the mathematics of gaming. Aside from a nice check, it was a fun gig, including a ticket on a Singapore Airlines all-business class flight from Los Angeles. The all-business class part was important because it was a 16-hour flight.

During the flight, I would get out of my sleeping/dining area/technology cubicle from time to time and go for a walk on the plane. My favorite place to hang out was back in the flight attendants’ station. The flight attendants were always ready with a snack, something to drink, and polite conversation. In one of those sessions, the topic was gaming. This discussion drifted into a discussion of voluntary gaming exclusion programs, where a person can voluntarily sign up to not be allowed to enter a casino or iGaming environment. During this conversation, I made the joke that I would like to sign up for the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Exclusion List, so I would not have the problems I experience fitting into my suits.

Upon arriving in Singapore, I checked into my hotel and tried to get some rest before my scheduled three-hour lecture the next day, understanding that with the length of the flight and the time change, I took off on a Sunday and arrived in Singapore on a Tuesday.

I somehow managed to get to the lecture site on time the following day, survived my three-hour presentation, and headed back to the hotel. When I entered my room, my message light was on. I was told I had a package at the concierge desk. There, a guest service attendant told me the package was stored in the hotel kitchen refrigerator, and he needed to retrieve it. I was most surprised to find him return with a small Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream carton and a nice note from the Singapore Airlines flight attendants.

When I think of this experience, the topic of exclusion is a very pleasant memory.

What I see going on with voluntary exclusion programs in the U.S. gaming space today is less pleasant. It is another example of people with too little sense, understanding, and empathy making decisions that can adversely affect other people’s lives.

The best practices model for exclusion programs needs to start with the premise that they should be designed to be therapeutic. They are not regulatory or police matters. Moreover, they should be as frictionless as possible.

I did a tour of the many websites that address voluntary exclusion in the U.S., and many appear neither therapeutic in their design nor frictionless. And as an aside, few of them are literate. My God, is it that difficult to find a bureaucrat who can draft intelligible sentences?

In Louisiana, one needs to appear in person at a Louisiana State Police Gaming Enforcement Division location and fill out an application. In the language of those of us who understand all too personally the challenge of admitting to a mental health issue involving addictive behavior, this is not smart. The last person most want to deal with in addressing a personal mental health issue is someone with a badge.

You might notice that most recovery programs end with the letter A. The A at the end stands for Anonymous, whether AA, CA, GA or whatever. People go to those meetings for therapeutic reasons, not to spread their name around as having an issue with alcohol, cocaine, or gambling. The point is to depersonalize the entry process and make it as easy as possible.

Hi, I’m Richard, and I am an alcoholic is a damn well easier statement to make to cohorts than being forced to start this discussion with a cop.

Technology today allows an individual to establish his or her identity with an incredibly high level of confidence via the virtual world. Without leaving home, I can establish who I am to set up a bank account, a brokerage account, and the like. And while this is apparently news to the regulatory folks in Nevada, the rest of you should know this is possible. Make it a part of your voluntary exclusion program.

Massachusetts, you often do things that are quite impressive on the regulatory front. Still, the part where you cause the individual to seek out exclusion status through a visit with someone in person (or through a Zoom-like interface) is not as brilliant as you think. You might think a trained counselor is comforting, but the potential applicant thinks of other in-person experiences with the government, like a visit to the folks at the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Those are always fun.

Some people want to access the exclusion opportunity and do not want to talk with anybody from the government–they just want to be kept out of those freaken’ casinos.

Massachusetts, sometimes good intentions are not enough. Also, you might pull a few people off the street to read your website explanation of your exclusion program and then have those people tell you what they think it says. My guess is that you may conclude it needs at least one more rewrite.

And, of course, Nevada, the first state to offer regulated gambling, is now the last state to have a hint about how to provide an iota of concern about establishing a voluntary exclusion program or much of anything else involving problem gambling. I find it ironic that at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, on any day, has several very smart people either lecturing about or working on research concerning problem gambling. Yet, the industry a few ‘hundred yards away could seemingly care less. It does not seem interested in what UNLV is doing or saying.

I have always believed that Nevada does not seem to care much about problem gambling because such a large portion of the market is from out of state. Nevada just sends the problem away along Interstate 15 or off to the Harry Reid International Airport–not unlike the polluting factory that dumps waste into a river to become someone else’s problem downstream.

Voluntary exclusion is not rocket science. Make it virtual, keep it simple, ensure the market knows it is available, and fund it. And understand this – you want to get this working right. The sooner a person begins to address the issue of recovery, the higher the probability is for that soul to recover. This is an important understanding, so get these systems right and get them up and running.

We also do not need a bunch of the institutions in the gaming ecosystem spending tons of money telling people how concerned they are about problem gambling rather than doing something about it. We also need to stop employing tokenism in putting people on the industry’s organizational charts to address problem gambling without a commitment to listen to them and affect meaningful programs. Our industry is creating Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat, all smile and no body.

So, get rid of the hurdles and keep it simple. And to those naysayers who want to suggest that self-exclusion often doesn’t work, please note that speed limits on our roads and highways don’t always work, but most of us seem to think they are a pretty good way to keep people from getting hurt.

Articles by Author: Richard Schuetz

Richard Schuetz started dealing blackjack for Bill Harrah 47 years ago, and has traveled the world as a casino executive, educator and regulator. He is sincerely appreciative of the help he received from his friends and colleagues throughout the gaming world in developing this article, understanding that any and all errors are his own.