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State eyes tightening ‘self-exclusion’ rules for compulsive gamblers

ALBANY – The state is looking to centralize the “balkanized” ways in which compulsive gamblers can voluntarily cut off their admission to casinos and other gambling venues across the state.

The state Gaming Commission said Monday it is working with racetracks, racetrack-based casinos such as at Hamburg and Batavia, Native American casinos and off-track betting parlors to coordinate “self-exclusion” programs statewide and to end a hodgepodge system that varies by gambling hall.

The agency’s executive director, Robert Williams, told his board Monday that existing rules have loopholes that can permit a person with a gambling problem to exclude themselves from one casino but then still keep an avenue open to make wagers at another nearby facility. Such a possibility has increased over the years as New York has expanded gambling opportunities.

Williams said the commission also is looking to bring a self-exclusion program to the state’s lottery games.

Self-exclusion programs, and the level of effort to which a casino goes to manage them, can vary greatly. The idea, backed by some treatment experts, is that a gambler who recognizes they have a compulsion can sign up to be blocked from entering a casino or other betting facility. Casinos, some with facial recognition cameras, keep photographs of the individuals and ask them to leave if spotted on site. In some cases, if a problem gambler is caught multiple times, the casino can call police and the person can be brought before a judge for violating the no-trespassing agreement they signed with casinos. If a bettor on the list tries to cash in a winning voucher, the casino is supposed to check its system and, if found to be a self-exclude participant, to deny the payment. Self-exclusion programs also are supposed to halt the distribution of marketing materials to gamblers on the list.

There are about 2,800 people signed up for self-exclusion programs at racetracks and the nine track-based casinos in New York, the Gaming Commission said. State officials did not have a number for self-exclusion programs at the state’s Native American casinos. A spokesman for the Seneca Gaming Corp., the Seneca Nation entity that operates three full-scale casinos in Western New York, declined to comment.

The Gaming Commission on Monday issued a set of proposed rules that will guide compulsive gambling programs at the three new commercial casinos authorized by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers in 2013 and now under construction just east of Rochester, in Schenectady and in the southern Catskills. The rule plan calls for the Gaming Commission, and not the individual casinos, to maintain a statewide list of gamblers on the self-exclusion list, which can, at the individual’s determination, last anywhere from one year to a lifetime.