Gambling addicts seek help through voluntary exclusion program

For some, the lights, sounds and a seat at the table is all so intoxicating and addicting, the only way to survive is to go dark.

"By not having that there, taking away that candy is just a blessing. It has just changed my life substantially," said one gambling addict we agreed to keep anonymous.

Gambling took her sanity she says, along with her life and her relationships.

But still, even talking about hitting 21 at a Black Jack table or the bonus on a slot machine, even the mere discussion of it for this interview took her right back.

"I can feel my heart beat going up.  You feel like you're in that action. It's a rush. It is and it is very dangerous,” the addict said.

Her record was three days straight at a table getting lost in the rhythm; the losing, winning some back and then losing all over again.

"All the years I spent saving…gone,” she said. “ And I was in denial that it was ever going to disappear and once you start that cycle of losses. It becomes a chase."

And she never caught up, losing upward of $40,000.

It was then she realized she needed to cash in on a service from the state of Maryland.

It is called the Voluntary Exclusion Program, a list you can put yourself on that will effectively ban you from Maryland casinos.

SEE RELATED: Voluntary exclusion not a ‘magic pill’ for gambling addiction

It takes about an hour to sign up, you are the only one that can and if you are caught in any Maryland casino, you are arrested for trespassing and forfeit any money you've won.

It effectively renders the gambler powerless inside a casino's walls.

"Not having that option brought my sanity back. And I think I do believe I am not alone in that."

According to the state, she is right.

“We expect the trajectory of sign-ups for voluntary exclusion is going to continue to climb and probably for the foreseeable future in a fairly dramatic rate," said Stephen Martino, the Director of Maryland’s Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, 

Because since its inception in 2011 the number of members exploded and Martino says the addition of casinos in Baltimore and Prince George’s County will only fuel the steep rise.

The program has seen a steady increase year to year from 2011 through 2013, and in just after the first four months of this year, it is on pace to more than double all of last year.

But also expected to increase is the number of arrests for voluntary exclusion members that actually violate the agreement.

From just three and four the first two years to 18 arrests last year and 13 over just four months this year.

An increase Martino says is because of casinos doing a better job of running names against the database and dealers and pit bosses knowing the faces.

"As part of their staff, introducing them to the people who are on the list, we distribute a photo of who these people are and they are recognizing more people. All of them are admitting to the fact that yes, I was on the property, I signed up for this program and they are guilty of what they are being charged with," Martino said.

It is a safe bet for a rapidly increasing amount of addicted gamblers in Maryland, but also one they can place in neighboring states to ensure a quick trip to West Virginia, Delaware or Pennsylvania is off the table as well.

For this woman we spoke to, it works.

She was one of the first 100 to sign up and it has been 16 months since she was able to step into a casino.

Her voluntary exclusion along with regular Gamblers Anonymous meetings have kept her away from the one thing she now knows could end a life she just got back.

"I think I wouldn't be alive if it weren’t for the voluntary ban.  It was that bad.  That's what gambling will do to you," she said.

The concept of a self-banning list has been around since the 90's when Missouri was the first state to start one.

Again the Lottery and Gaming Control Agency really saw a jump in membership here in Maryland when table games were introduced.

In the past the list was about 50/50 between men and women, but since last year men have been signing up much more often.

Problem gamblers who are on this list and get caught are charged with trespassing and we are told almost all of them anticipate the arrest and do not contest the charge.


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