Pennsylvania House Passes Changes to the Self-Exclusion List Law Which Helps Gamblers
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives unanimously approved HB 322 today, which adds an additional sentencing options to a law involving the self-exclusion list for gaming and trespassing at casinos. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Mauree Gingrich, a Republican from Lebanon County.
House Bill 322 applies to people who voluntarily add themselves to the Gaming Control Board’s self-exclusion list. The self-ban law was created to help problem gamblers and others who do not want to engage in casino gambling to “ban” themselves from land-based casino gambling.
Trespassing Laws on Previous Version
Under current Pennsylvania gaming law, anyone who puts themselves on the self-exclusion list and is caught trying to enter a brick-and-mortar casino facility in the state faces a potential trespassing fine. The new provision give authorities more options, such as determining whether they suffer from problem gaming, whether they need counseling, or whether an alternate form of training would suffice.
The new law calls for the court to evaluate the person “in a manner deemed appropriate”.
In debates discussing the proposed change, Rep. Gingrich said on the House floor, “Courts have no choice but to charge these individuals criminally when they violate the self-exclusion law, when what they really need is a little help. My bill would give the court the authority to require offenders to be evaluated as part of their sentence.”
More Options for Penn Judges
If passed in the Senate, HB 322 would give judges a wider range of options in the rehabilitation of those who violate the self-ban. The amended law allows for the focus to be placed on treatment and less on punishment (or deterrence). In her persuasive speech, Gingrich added, “These evaluations could lead to an effective treatment for their compulsion, and could ultimately result in lives and families being saved by any treatment ordered by the court as a result of this legislation.”
At present, nearly 9,000 people are on the Pennsylvania self-exclusion list, which is maintained by the state’s Gaming Control Board. People can join the list by filling out the proper paperwork and turning it in at the Office of Compulsive and Problem Gambling in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
A person adding themselves to the list must appear at the Compulsive Gambling Office in person and prove their identity. They also need to provide basic background information (full name, address), a social security number, a detailed physical description, and a government-issued photo identification.
Length of a Self-Ban
When a person is added to the list, they remain on there for either 1 year, 5 years, or a lifetime. In the case of the one-year or five-year bans, once this time has elapsed, a person can remove themselves from the list as one of the PGCB regional offices.
They must provide a photo ID once again, while appearing in person. Then they must wait 10 business days for the Gaming Control Board to remove the person from the list. They should wait a full 15 days to enter a casino, because some casinos take up to 5 business days to remove a name after being informed by the GCB. When a person joins the self-exclusion list, the person must not engage in gambling at a casino, or join any of their various promotional clubs. Also, the casinos in the state must refuse them service, while also refraining from sending out marketing material to the person, either through snail mail or email.
Terms for a Self-Exclusion Action
If a person gambles while on the self-exclusion list, they are not allowed to keep any winnings they had. Also, any money they lost cannot be retrieved. Instead, upon discovery of the person’s identity, whatever money they lost must be forfeited by the casino to the Pennsylvania Compulsive and Problem Gambling Treatment Fund.
Since the self-exclusion list was created, there have been a reported 2,100 cases in which someome violated the ban. One should not assume the 20% to 25% of the people try to gamble after the ban is in place–many of the cases involve repeat offenders.
Breaking the Ban Is a Sign of Problem Gambling
Rep. Gingrich recognized that anyone walking into a casino knowing they would lose any winnings and could not reclaim any losses is likely to have a serious gambling issue. In that case, punishing them with a hefty fine seems only to harm the family of the gambler more than it does deter such activity.
Under the new system, the evaluation process would need to be fine-tuned. Because of the wording of the law, the process could be radically different from one county to the next. Some judges might punish, while others would be more likely to buy into gaming addiction as the real problem and assign treatment for someone defying the ban.
House Bill 322 now goes to the Pennsylvania Senate for passage. If that happens, the governor would need to sign the bill into law.
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