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Proposal Would Allow Gamblers to Lift Self-Imposed Casino Ban with ‘Good Cause’
Gamblers who are banned for life from Iowa casinos could soon hear the dinging of the slot machines again — without having to sneak around.
Gamblers can irrevocably ban themselves for life from Iowa casinos by joining the statewide self-exclusion program, which is mandated by Iowa law. But under the proposed legislation, SF 2062, gamblers would be able to remove themselves from the list by providing “good cause.” Iowa’s ban list contains the names of 2,450 people, a list that is shared among the state’s 17 licensed casinos. Banned gamblers who are caught inside the casinos must forfeit winnings and are subject to arrest.
“It seemed reasonable to me that if there are people out there that made a mistake and have a case to make — that they need some sort of process,” complained Sen. Mary Lundby (R-Marion), who proposed the bill after a resident in her district.
The Iowa Council on Problem Gambling has concerns about the proposal, said John Hostetler, president. He said gambling-treatment providers would face ethical problems should they be asked to determine “good cause” and decide whether a problem gambler is fit to return to gambling.
“It’s hard to tell someone what harm would come to a person who had a problem and wants to go back to gambling,” he said. “People have suicidal ideas and suicide attempts with problem gambling and all that can come back [into] play if that resumes. It seems awful risky to say go ahead and go for it.”
A resident in Lundby’s district, whom she declined to name, asked to her to consider allowing people to revoke their self-imposed ban. She said he told her that he didn’t realize the ban was statewide. He also told her that when he attempted to gamble at a Harrah’s Casino in another state, he was barred because the Iowa ban extends to all casinos operating under the Harrah’s brand name.
Lundby said she is unsure how “good cause” could be determined, but said the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission could be used to determine whether to lift an individual’s ban. The commission plans to ask for an amendment that would allow someone to request removal from the list after five years, she said.
“A person could prove it by seeing a psychologist and having an evaluation,” she said. “I’d put the process into the hands of racing and gaming who could contract with [1-800] Bets Off. I’d allow racing and gaming to set up a process to address it.”
That could pose problems for those who counsel gamblers.
“It’s a very serious disorder and as a treatment provider I don’t know of a situation I’ve encountered working that I would say as a therapist, `You’ve proven good cause, go back to gambling,’” Hostetler said.
People who put themselves on the ban list often sneak back into casinos to gamble without the casinos being aware of it, he and Lundby said. Some gamblers on the list are detected when they win jackpots, which they must forfeit to state gambling treatment programs. Gamblers have forfeited winnings of more than $343,000 in 2005 and 2006, according to a spokesman with the Iowa Gaming Association, a trade group.
“You can go into a casino and waste your money if you’re self-excluded,” Lundby said. “You just can’t win anything.”
The legislature is also considering a bill that would toughen the penalties for people on the ban list. The proposed HF 2051 would make it a misdemeanor if someone on the banned list is caught on casino property.
Hostetler said people place themselves on the list for serious reasons. He said the self-exclusion program is a good tool for problem gamblers. He said he has worked with gamblers who have lost their homes, families and businesses and their lives.
He can’t imagine telling the people who once felt they had enough of a gambling problem to warrant putting themselves on the statewide list to resume gambling.
“This is such a hidden illness. People don’t see it. It’s amazing how devastating it is,” he said. “Somebody walking down the street who is drunk you can kind of see. Somebody with a very serious gambling problem walking down the street — that doesn’t show.”