Compulsive gambler bans himself from Ohio casino

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AKRON, Ohio (AP) -- Ohio's casino commission has a way to help problem gamblers from giving into temptation by allowing them, and anyone else, to ask the commission to ban themselves from any of the four casinos opening in the state.

People can ask to be excluded for a year, five years or life.

The new state program, which is similar to those in 15 others states, makes it a crime for those who volunteer to be on the list to enter. Those who are caught inside a casino will be charged with trespassing and forced to forfeit any of their winnings.

So far, only one person has been placed on the list and 10 others are awaiting approval, The Akron Beacon Journal reported Sunday. The casino commission thinks between 5,000 and 10,000 people will participate.

"It's a wonderful thing knowing that it's illegal to step foot in a casino," said Justin Gale, a Mayfield Heights resident who quit gambling last year and was the first Ohioan approved for the "Voluntary Exclusion" program.

To be placed on the list, people must apply in person with the casino commission. Once approved, the commission shares the person's photographs and physical descriptions with the casinos. No one is allowed to sign up someone else.

Ohio's first casino opened a week ago in Cleveland and a second will open next week in Toledo. Two others are under construction in Columbus and Cincinnati.

Caesars Entertainment, which is operating the Cleveland and Cincinnati casinos, and Penn National Gaming Inc., which will run the Toledo and Columbus casinos, also have voluntary exclusion programs.

The programs can help, but they're not a substitute for treatment, experts told The Beacon Journal.

"Unless it's coupled with prevention and treatment, it can't be effective and adequate," said Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling in Washington, D.C. "Unless you can do something to actually help them address their problem, you're trying to bring an enforcement solution to a health issue."

The programs do help problem gamblers take an important step, said Judy Patterson, senior vice president and executive director of the American Gaming Association.

"The purpose is to help or encourage someone with a gambling problem to take personal responsibility for their own problem," she said.

A 2009 study of Missouri's program showed that 81 percent of the people on the exclusion list gambled less and no one reported gambling more, according to the Cambridge Health Alliance, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. But it also found that 50 percent of the people enrolled returned to the casinos despite being banned.

"Clearly the program discourages gambling, essentially problem gambling, which is the effect you're hoping to have," Patterson said.

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Information from: Akron Beacon Journal, http://www.ohio.com

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