If you believe you have a gambling problem, you can sign up at the local racino or race track or OTB and get yourself banned.
According to gambling addiction organizations, this can be a pretty effective way to discourage problem gambling, based on the premise that the first step to solving a problem is recognizing that you have one.
But the sheer definition of "problem gambler" is that they can't help themselves from gambling. So what many self-banned addicts do when they get the itch is simply go find another gaming venue nearby — one where they haven't gotten themselves banned — and bet there.
New York state is a co-conspirator in their cheating by allowing gaming facilities to maintain their own individual lists of self-banned individuals and by not extending the ability to self-regulate to all other gaming that might tempt problem gamblers — such as the lottery.
If the state doesn't do anything to address the problem, it's only going to get worse, especially when the three new casinos in the state get up and running in the next couple of years.
Fortunately for those who truly want to kick their gambling habit, the state Gaming Commission is proposing to toughen its own regulations and processes for the way it handles the self-exclusion process.
The most significant change it plans to make is reducing the hodge-podge of individual procedures for handling the self-banned individuals from venue to venue. The commission plans to impose a uniform self-exclusion policy across all licensed gaming venues in the state and create a statewide self-exclusion list that will better enable venues to identify and stop problem gamblers from gambling.
Right now, more than 2,800 people have themselves banned in individual venues around New York. Allowing gamblers to exclude themselves from all venues by filling out just one form, and having a statewide exclusion list accessible to all gaming facilities, would remove both the temptation and the ability of problem gamblers to go back on their own self-imposed gambling ban.
It's also important that the state plug another loophole in this area by extending the self-imposition to the lottery system. While it would be unreasonable to expect every convenience store in the state to check a self-exclusion list before someone buys a lottery ticket, the solution could come when that individual shows up to claim a prize.
If the person's name is in the state's computer, prizes of upwards of $600, under a new proposal, would be confiscated. While that doesn't stop individuals from playing the lottery, it does take away the profit motive that drives many people to the games. Reducing the $600 figure should be considered as the Gaming Commission collects public input on the changes during the next 45 days.
In addition, the state should work hard to ensure the participation of the casinos run by Indian tribes, such as the Turning Stone casino in Verona. The Indian casinos already maintain their own self-exclusion lists as part of their federal charters. So they should have no objection to voluntarily participating in a statewide program. Their inclusion is vital.
The Gaming Commission has also proposed other rules for addressing problem gambling relating to monitoring of problem-gambling efforts, casino employee training and signage.
Some might say the state could address problem gambling by not giving them so many opportunities to gamble. But that horse has already left the barn. The venues exist, and people can gamble online and in nearby states.
The issue now is how to contain problem gambling so that the most vulnerable aren't harmed by it.
A good place to start is by making it easier for those who voluntarily set out to stop their own gambling to help themselves.