Does Casino Self-Exclusion Work?

Casinos say that nobody connected to the Vegas online and on-site industry benefits from problem gambling. Problem gamblers lose money that they can't afford to lose, see relationships disintegrate and suffer emotional and physical health deterioration.

The casino industry also suffers. The fall-out from problem gambling is one of the biggest objections that community activists and public officials have to opening new casino sites. The sector's reputation suffers and that impacts business negatively.

Regulators are on the front line in battling gambling addictions. They need to stay on their toes in enforcing existing regulations and proposing new laws to deal with the issue -- issues that can also affect the policies, budgets and plans of governments and councils.

Everyone wants to do whatever is possible to reduce the problem of gambling addiction and compulsive gambling behavior. There's a lack of consensus, however regarding the effectiveness of the most touted method of control -- self-exclusion. 


Self-exclusion involves allowing an individual to instruct casino operators to refuse his/her patronage. A person who instructs a casino to exclude him from the casino floor creates the mechanism by which the casino will block him from placing any wagers.

Self-exclusion programs are available in the US, the UK, Australia, South Africa, Canada and other countries. In areas where self-exclusion policies are in effect, the individual who is aware that s/he suffers from a gambling problem can voluntarily request that the casino add his/her name to a self-exclusion list. Once the application is accepted, the person in question is banned from all participating casinos within the self-exclusion coverage area.

Not only will the casino refuse entry to a self-excluded person but if s/he tries to enter a casino that participates in the self-exclusion program, the casino will have him/her arrested and charged with trespassing. At the time of the arrest, if the person has any tokens, credits, chips or other winnings in their possession, those winnings can be confiscated or invalidated.

Using Self-Exclusion as a Tool to Control Problem Gambling

Gambling addiction advisors say that self-exclusion is only one of the tools available to people who feel they may be developing a problem with their gambling. It is a tool that may not work on its own and may require support and other interventions to effectively help the problem gambler.

They also point out that for the program to be effective, the individual must acknowledge that s/he has a problem with uncontrolled gambling. Self-exclusion must be viewed as a partnership. While casino staff will do the maximum to prevent someone from gambling, the individual him/herself must also make the attempt to refrain from gambling. This is best achieved with support from professional support services as well as from family and friends.


Gambling self-exclusion programs have experienced success in helping some (but not all) gamblers who have difficulty controlling their betting behavior to gamble less often.

Some addiction counselors and advisors believe that casinos promote self-exclusion programs as a public relations measure. They say that such programs don't actually help most of the people with gambling problems. The campaign "deflects attention away from problematic products and industries" says Natasha Dow Schull, a cultural anthropologist at New York University and author of the book Addiction by Design.

Dow Schull and others believe that self-enforcement is only one aspect of any therapy program. Taking responsibility is the key. As one therapist explained,  "without such acceptance of responsibility, much of the effectiveness of self-exclusion programs would be lost."


Casinos admit that the self-exclusion programs are difficult to enforce. Some self-exclusion programs are conducted under the auspices of the casinos while others run under the supervision of the local gambling licensing authorities. In Ontario Canada, the provincial Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) runs the self-exclusion program for on-site casinos, online gaming and lottery activities.

An Canadian Broadcasting Corporation  investigation concluded that OLG was not effective in enforcing the self-exclusion program. They reported, in part,   "gambling addicts ... said that while on the ... self-exclusion list, they entered OLG properties on a regular basis" in spite of the facial recognition technology in place at the casinos.  One CBC journalist who checked the self-exclusion system discovered that, on four separate occasions, he could enter Ontario casinos and gamble, even though he had been registered and photographed as part of the registration process for the self-exclusion program.

When questioned by CBC reporters an OLG spokesman placed the responsibility on the gambler himself. "We provide supports to self-excluders by training our staff, by providing disincentives, by providing facial recognition, by providing our security officers to look for players. No one element is going to be foolproof because it is not designed to be foolproof".

OLG maintains that the enforcement of self-exclusion by a casino cannot be expected to be 100% foolproof. "If you attempt to re-enter a gaming facility in Ontario, your image may be captured by cameras and you may be automatically detected by security." 

Pilot Programs

Everyone admits that strategies to help problem gamblers need to be expanded. One program that's running in Chatham and Glasgow excludes gamblers from all participating betting shops with only one form. The Glasgow program is more expansive – when someone fills in the self-exclusion form he calls a confidential helpline and is connected to trained staff members who help him proceed.

All of the details of which shops to exclude from – shops near where the person works or lives, betting shops in the area where they socialize, all shops – are then processed and the details, along with a photo ID, are circulated to all of the shops.  

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