In May 2013, the American Gaming Association released its annual report on the state of the U.S. casino industry. The report triumphantly announced that almost half of America's casino patrons are between the ages of 21-35, indicating that young adults contribute a significant portion of America's gambling revenue. The association's CEO, Frank Fahrenkopf, said that the American casino industry is thriving thanks to this faction of younger people. While some, like Fahrenkopf, find this statistic exhilarating, others are worried by it. Young adults are not immune to gambling addiction, and in fact may be more prone to it. Thankfully, some casinos offer what is called a "Voluntary Exclusion Program", or VEP. This is a protective program in which gambling addicts who fear they may lose control at a certain casino, or group of casinos, can ban themselves from casino entry.
Getting On a Voluntary Exclusion Program List
Voluntary exclusion is not an option in all U.S. states. Where it is available, concerned citizens can apply to have their name added to a facility's VEP list. Once on a list, the person in question cannot legally enter a casino. If they do, they are immediately arrested, and any money won is forfeited back to the casino.
How List Members Are Recognized and Prosecuted
When a person applies to be on a VEP list, their physical description is noted and photograph taken. If caught by casino officials, they are evicted from the property and charged with trespassing. In essence, the list is like a restraining order a person places against himself, for his own good. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that list members will be caught if they try to sneak into a casino in spite of themselves. Guiding practices are put in place, but they are not infallible.
Justin Gale: First Member of Ohio's VEP Program
Ohio recently became a gambling state with four brand new casinos: two Horseshoe casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati and two Hollywood casinos in Toledo and Columbus (read the full article). With the addition of the new casinos came the fear of problem gambling for some, like 52-year-old Justin Gale. At age 50, Gale finally kicked a compulsive gambling habit that had plagued him for over 30 years. The opening of four new casinos in his home state was a threat to his recovery, and Gale recognized this.
When a Horseshoe opened in nearby Cleveland, Gale knew he had to do something to prevent himself from falling off the wagon. He contacted the Ohio Casino Control Commission and applied to be part of its voluntary exclusion program. Under the program, citizens can choose to ban themselves from Ohio casinos for one year, five years, or a lifetime. Those who choose the one-year or five-year option can reverse the decision after the term is up, but those who choose the lifetime option can never reverse the decision. Gale chose to ban himself for life. He has the distinction of being Ohio's first VEP member.
Ohio's Casino Control Commission speculates that Gale won't be the only one barring himself in this manner. Officials have predicted that up to 10,000 Ohioans will eventually add themselves to the list. In any population, approximately one percent have the impulse control disorder that could lead to problem gambling. Of course, not only must VEP list members be able to recognize their problem, they must also possess the self-determination to actually put themselves on the list.
Missouri: The First State to Offer VEP
In 1996, Missouri became the first state in the U.S. to offer voluntary exclusion to citizens. TheMissouri Gaming Commission offers the choice of either a five-year or lifetime ban. Over 14,000 people have put themselves on Missouri's list, the majority of them taking the five-year option over the lifetime ban.
Maryland's VEP Program Extended to Lottery
Maryland opened its first casino in 2011; a voluntary exclusion program soon followed. Interested Maryland residents can apply to be on the list at any state casino or at the Lottery and Gaming Control Agency, headquartered in Baltimore. As of May 2013, a little over 200 people were on Maryland's list.
Maryland's VEP list members will soon be given an additional option: to have their name added to a lottery exclusion list. As part of this new list, anyone who participates in scratch-off tickets or other forms of lottery would be legally required to forfeit their winnings back to the state.
Indiana's VEP Program: "The First Step is Up to You"
Indiana offers a VEP program with an informative pamphlet about problem gambling. Prospective list members answer questions on a checklist such as, "Do you sell your possessions to finance gambling?" and, "Has your gambling led you to thoughts of self destruction?" Those interested in becoming part of Indiana's program are instructed to do so either by approaching a uniformed casino security guard or by going to the Indiana Gaming Commission office in Indianapolis to ask for help.
The pamphlet recognizes that taking these steps can be scary, and that it takes a certain amount of confidence to get involved with the program. It provides information on rehabilitation and financial programs for those struggling with addiction in Indiana.
Corporate VEP Programs
In addition to state-sponsored programs, some private corporations offer VEP opportunities. Two such corporations are Caesars Entertainment and Penn National Gaming.
Caesars Entertainment representative Gary Thompson said that people who are leary of stepping to inside a casino, yet do not wish to put themselves on a VEP list, can elect to stop receiving Caesars marketing information. Then can also request that the Caesars casinos deny them all credit and check cashing privileges.