BALTIMORE, Md: - Even if they’re on Maryland’s Voluntary Exclusion List, addicts will find a way to gamble.
As the clinical director for the University of Maryland Center for Problem Gaming, Lori Rugle knows it firsthand.
“I’ve seen everything from people using different names to using disguises,” she said. “It’s rare, but a ban can be just another challenge to someone with a severe problem.”
State gambling officials implemented the exclusion list in 2011 as a way to keep potential addicts out of casinos.
The catch: they volunteer to be on the list.
The preventative tool isn’t new. Nearly a dozen states across the country have started similar lists in the last decade.
Despite being considered a controversial tactic by some counselors, neighboring states praise the practice as a way to addressing gambling addiction.
“When we were organizing preventive efforts with casinos, we saw that other states used the list,” said Laura Clemens, problem gaming coordinator for Ohio’s Gaming Commission. “That’s when we adopted it and adapted it for our state.”
In 2014, 912 people in Ohio signed up for the list. In order to qualify, a person has to physically sign up in person with the Ohio gaming commission.
Despite growing interested, Clemens said there are always volunteers who are caught.
So far, the gaming commission has collected $15,000 in fines from violators. All the funding goes into addiction prevention.
“This isn’t a cure to the problem,” Clemens said, “but it’s one of many tools we are using in addressing the problems of addiction.”
Other states are also reporting similar success.
In New Jersey, gaming officials adopted the tactic in 2001. To date, 1,792 people voluntarily placed themselves on the exclusion list.
Only 66 have relapsed.
Kerry Langan, spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety, said officials have always been sensitive to issues involving responsible gaming.
“One of the challenges of the self exclusion list is that while it is a useful tool for many who identify themselves as problem gamblers, it is ultimately up to the individual to refrain from gambling,” she said.
In Delaware, 336 people have been added to their exclusion list since 2004.
James Logue, deputy director for the Delaware Lottery’s video division, said it’s a challenge for all casino facilities to identify everyone on the program.
“The focus of the program is to assist the problem gambler by offering a deterrent to entering the properties,” he said.
Rugle said one misconception of the program is that many believe it will cure addicts from attempting to enter a casino, even if they are banned.
“It’s not a magic pill, not a cure for the problem,” she said. “It reinforces someone’s commitment, to be in recovery for a gambling problem.”
Clemens said the best way to address the issue is to have a multi-prong approach for treatment and recovery.
In Ohio, Clemens said they recently trained 500 counselors throughout the state to assist with treating gambling addiction.
The state is also focusing on preventative efforts for adults in the 18-24 age.
“Data shows that this age group is prone to be more addictive,” she said.
Stephen Martino, director of the Maryland Gaming Commission said the idea for the exclusion in Maryland came from the success it produced in other states.
So far, just over 400 people have voluntarily banned themselves from entering a Maryland casino or
face possible trespassing charges.
About 34 have been caught.
He said in addition to the list, funding is being set aside for all types of treatment, including hiring more counselors, starting more programs and ensuring there is follow-up.
Like in Ohio, gamblers from all over the country are signing up.
"We continue to see more people from out of state sign up. So, we are seeing a significant number of people on the list from Virginia, from DC, Pennsylvania, and we expect that to continue as we see larger facilities in the state open,” Martino said.
To prep for the opening of Baltimore City’s Horseshoe Casino in August, Rugle said her organization plans to launch more preventative campaign this summer.
She anticipates more addicts will come out to seek treatment.