Should Compulsive Gamblers Self-Ban From Casinos?

Close-up of a roulette wheel with gambling chips in a casino

When compulsive gamblers begin facing serious negative consequences due to their gambling addiction, one step often recommended by professional therapists is to self-ban from casinos. This is a good move, but not the only action that should be taken.

For some insight into the issues of compulsive gamblers self-excluding from casinos, we spoke with Uberto Mondolfi, NCC, CAP, NCGC II, primary therapist in the multicultural program at Lucida Treatment Center in Lantana, Florida.

What Is Casino Self-Banning?

How does a compulsive gambler self-ban from casinos? The process isn’t as simple as it might seem, Mondolfi says.

Some casinos offer good service when a gambler says they want to self-exclude. Casino staff members guide them to the administration office, take their picture and a copy of their driver’s license, and have them sign a form to choose how long they want to self-ban — one year, five years or for life. “I encourage my clients to self-exclude for life,” Mondolfi says. “If you’re a pathological gambler, you need to abstain from gambling the rest of your life.”

But Mondolfi says the self-ban process isn’t so smooth in some casinos. For example, at a Miami casino run by the Miccosukee tribe, it’s necessary to send a letter to the tribe to ask to be self-banned from the casino. “The request then goes to a tribal meeting and most of the time they approve it, but it loses some of the momentum the gambler has.”

Mondolfi believes that casino self-banning is an important first step, with the crucial caveat that the gambler needs to then move forward in the recovery process. “They need to continue talking about it by going to Gamblers Anonymous (GA) and working with a psychotherapist,” he says. “It’s a good step, but not the only part of recovery.”

Problems Surrounding Casino Self-Banning

It would seem like a simple solution: Just ban yourself from the casino and the problem is solved. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case, Mondolfi says. “Most compulsive gamblers and their family members believe that self-exclusion is the solution because the problem is the gambler going to the casino.”

One of the problems that gamblers and their family members learn is that just because you self-ban from one casino doesn’t mean you’ve banned yourself from others. “The gambler can go next door,” Mondolfi says.

He explains to his clients that the self-exclusion is only for that casino and he encourages them to go to all the casinos in the area to self-ban from those as well. “Some compulsive gamblers hide from their family members the fact that they need to self-ban from all casinos individually. They deny that they need to self-ban from any and all that are near them.”

A National Database for Casino Self-Banning

According to Mondolfi, a national database for casino self-exclusion is something that some advocates and other counselors like him are working on. “If you’re a compulsive gambler and you know you don’t want to gamble anymore, what’s the point of self-banning from just the casinos where you live?” he says. Like any other addiction, the tool or “fix” always exists somewhere, not just “at home.”

Mondolfi says the suggestion of a national database for self-banning has been presented to the National Council of Responsible Gambling, the only national organization exclusively devoted to funding research that helps increase understanding of pathological and youth gambling and finding effective methods of treatment for the disorder. “We’re trying to get a database started here in Florida,” he says.

But there are other obstacles. Some Florida casinos are managed by the Indian tribes and operated under a completely different law. While a national database is an effort Mondolfi and others are working on, they don’t have much support from the casino owners.

Returning to a Casino Where a Self-Ban Exists

The nature of gambling addiction is that sometimes the urge can’t be overcome. Mondolfi explains what happens when gamblers return to a casino they’ve self-banned from. “Upon first attempt, casino management tells them if they try to gamble there it will be treated as trespassing and they’ll be arrested,” he says. “The casino explains the law, informing the gambler that there could be a fine and even jail time.”

However, the enforcement of self-exclusion is tricky. In some casinos, security measures aren’t that good. There could just be casino staff at the door requesting IDs. But the gambler still tries to go to the casinos with no consequence. Often no one will ask for an ID, and if they do, casino staffers just check IDs to make sure people are old enough to go in. They don’t have a computer to scan the ID to show that the self-banned gambler isn’t allowed to go in.

Some casinos are implementing face recognition. “But compulsive gamblers still go to the casino with a fear of getting caught, and the extra excitement of getting caught fuels the drive to gamble. It’s a double-edged sword,” Mondolfi says.

In many of the cases of self-ban violation that Mondolfi knows of, it’s just a slap on the wrist or a fine in the beginning. If the compulsive gambler does get arrested, they get scared, pay the fine and stop going to that casino, but they then try another.

“The point is that if a gambler is trespassing, it means the addiction is still alive and kicking,” Mondolfi says. “They need to take care of the addiction — the real problem of why they’re going to the casino and taking the risk.”

“If compulsive gamblers tell me they’re going to the casino, I try to explore the reason with them,” he says. Common underlying issues include “I need money,” “I need a fix” or “I need to get high again.”

Recommendations for Casino Self-Banning

Mondolfi’s recommendation for compulsive gamblers is to self-ban and start treatment immediately. “It’s an intensive process,” he says. “Initial therapy sessions should be three to four times a week.” He also encourages clients to go to GA meetings.

Beyond that, it’s necessary to have a clear understanding of the family finances from an objective standpoint, which means opening up the books, seeing the number of credit cards, the amount of debt owed and to whom, and how much income there is. “This is huge pressure for the gambler,” Mondolfi says. “If they’re hiding their finances, there’s serious trouble and they don’t want their family to find out.” The stress of this can trigger another gambling binge.

Mondolfi reassures clients that there’s no shame or blame, and that they need to start fixing the problem immediately. Some of these measures include contacting a credit counseling office and calling all creditors. “Doing something proactive at the beginning of the recovery process is important to help reduce the pressure and anxiety of the financial situation,” he says. “The gambler needs to give up all financial power in the family. If they make it to that level of commitment, the results can be amazing.”

Most of the time, however, the family members unfortunately aren’t involved, Mondolfi says. If they are involved, they don’t know how or don’t want to manage the finances. He tries to explain to them how important this is to their loved one recovering from gambling addiction.

“The perfect scenario is all of the family members involved in treatment with the compulsive gambler,” Mondolfi says. “Self-banning and getting the whole family into recovery to talk about finances and what they’re going to do is the best plan.”

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