A state lawmaker's recent disclosure that she is a gambling addict and was removed from a casino after adding herself to the state’s self-exclusion list has highlighted a program that — by design — is little known to the public.
Louisiana’s self-exclusion program, in which problem gamblers can voluntarily ban themselves from casinos and other gaming establishments in the state, has been around for more than a decade, but it’s rarely mentioned publicly. State Police, charged with administering the program, keep most information about it confidential.
“The Louisiana State Police will not comment in regards to the process of the program out of respect for those that utilize it to deal with personal challenges,” spokesman Lt. Nick Manale said in response to a request from The Advocate for additional information about the program, including how many people are on the self-ban rolls.
State Police sources have said some in the agency are concerned that the disclosure of Sen. Karen Carter Peterson’s inclusion could dissuade other addicts from adding their names to the self-exclusion list out of privacy concerns.
Peterson, a state senator from New Orleans and chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, disclosed in an email last month that she has a gambling problem after a New Orleans television station reported that she had violated a casino ban.
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Peterson received a misdemeanor summons after gambling at L’Auberge Casino in Baton Rouge in February.
In the revelation that was also posted to her Facebook page, Peterson said she has been a gambling addict for years.
“It is a disease,” she wrote. “From time to time, I have relapsed; I have let myself down as well as family and friends who are near and dear to me.”
She voluntarily entered the program that made it illegal for her to enter gambling establishments in the state two years ago.
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“Under this program, I consented to allowing any of these officials who see me in a gambling establishment to escort me out and to issue a summons,” she wrote. “Recently while experiencing challenging times, I violated my voluntary ban and was issued a summons. The program worked as it should. I certainly regret failing to uphold my agreement to avoid casinos.”
Problem gambling affects an estimated 1% of the adult population in the United States. Louisiana's gambling help line fields about 700 calls a year from people concerned that they may have a gambling problem.
Experts generally view self-exclusion as an effective method of curbing problem gambling when someone signs up, but others argue that the programs can be hard to enforce and their effectiveness is questionable.
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According to available documents about Louisiana's program, including state laws, Gaming Control Board policies and State Police resources online, banning one’s self from a casino is a deliberate process that begins with a formal meeting at one of five State Police Gaming Operations field offices located across the state.
“In order to ensure that a division agent will be available, it is always best to schedule an appointment at the appropriate field office,” the State Police website notes.
At that meeting, the person requesting exclusion is photographed, and their picture is distributed to select gaming officials at each establishment — many of them use facial recognition software — under the Gaming Control Board’s purview. The information is excluded from the Louisiana Public Records Act.
A person on the self-exclusion rolls cannot claim any winnings if they violate the ban and also cannot accept any complimentary goods or services. Casinos also are barred from sending marketing materials to those on the list.
Getting off the list is also a tightly regulated process.
Anyone added to the self-exclusion rolls remains there for a minimum of five years. There is no process for removing one’s name from it earlier.
After the five-year period, a person can petition to have their name removed but must provide a written recommendation from a "qualified mental health professional." Removal is final only after a hearing and determination from the Gaming Control Board “that there is no longer a basis for you to be maintained on the self-exclusion list.”
Although Louisiana provides scant information about its self-exclusion list, other states have been more forthcoming with how many people are on their rolls and who is most affected.
Missouri, which had one of the first statewide self-ban programs in the country, has been studied extensively because it has made its information available to researchers. According to those studies, men and women are equally inclined to enroll, and a majority of people who enroll are in their early 40s.