By Jeff Kronenfeld / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ
(Pinal County, AZ) Two to three percent of Americans admit to struggling with problem gambling, according to Arizona Division of Problem Gambling (DPG) Director Elise Mikkelsen. She noted Arizona’s numbers fall in line with national figures, though no specific information on Pinal County’s rate was available.
If the national rate is applied to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent estimates of Pinal County’s population, roughly 9,000 to 13,500 county residents could suffer from problem gambling.
In reality, the figure may be much higher, especially when considering the impacts on the family and friends of the afflicted.
"That number is inclusive of people who are willing to say yes when they're asked," Mikkelsen said. "There's some controversy over whether or not that number could be a little bit higher, just from people who aren't willing to answer that question correctly or may not have insight into what's going on with themselves."
The National Council of Problem Gambling reports two million U.S. adults meet the criteria for severe gambling problems, while another four to six million have mild or moderate gambling problems. These figures are within the ranges Mikkelsen provided.
Still, Arizona's legalization of sports betting last September, plus the proliferation of online and mobile gambling, has increased the total amount of money wagered. In February, Arizonans bet almost $492 million on sports wagering alone.
However, help is available.
The DPG runs a program where Arizona residents can ban themselves from all or some forms of gambling, offering a critical reprieve to compulsive risk takers, those close to them, and the wider community.
Origins of the Self-Exclusion Program
Other states also offer gambling self-exclusion programs, though these are usually run by
gaming commissions, not a regulatory agency like Arizona.
In 2000, the Arizona Lottery, another state agency, established a problem gaming program. Two years later, voters passed Proposition 202, allowing the state to enter into compact agreements with Native American tribes to operate casinos.
The proposition required gambling prevention and treatment programs to receive two percent of casino profits. In response, the office of then Governor Janet Napolitano consolidated the state’s efforts to combat problem gambling under the Department of Gaming.
The state established the first self-exclusion program for casinos in the early 2000s. Mikkelsen reported that 2,130 people were on the casino self-exclusion list, though the number frequently fluctuates due to new enrollments and participant terms expiring.
The more recently created event wagering and fantasy sports (EWFS) exclusion program had 22 people enrolled.
How self-exclusion works
To enroll, people must read and fill out a form on the DPG's website. Then, they must get the document notarized and submitted to the DPG. There are separate forms for casino
and EWFS self-exclusion programs, with the latter offering an option to enroll in both at once.
The DPG does have a limited number of notaries available by appointment.
For participants in the casino self-exclusion program, entering any casino in the state is considered trespassing. In addition, some casino chains ban anyone excluded in any state from all their properties worldwide.
Of course, the tribe and casino decide whether to press charges or not, though most will promptly escort individuals known to be self-excluded off the premises.
“There's no way to identify a patron just by them walking in and starting to participate in gambling,” Mikkelsen explained. “They don't swipe cards when people walk into the property. So, most times, the only way that a patron is identified as being on the self-exclusion program is when they win a jackpot.”
Casinos are legally obligated to check jackpot winners' names against the self-exclusion database. The prize is immediately revoked if the establishment discovers a winner is on the self-exclusion list.
Many tools for managing problem gambling
Mikkelsen stresses that self-exclusion doesn't work for everyone and is only one tool for managing problem gambling.
“What we encourage people to do is to participate in treatment, maybe utilize self-exclusion, if they're comfortable with that, and put all those different pieces together to help them to reduce or to eliminate their desire for gambling,” Mikkelsen said.
A DPG online self-assessment quiz can help determine if one should seek treatment for gambling behavior. More information is available on the self-exclusion program's website, including forms for casino and EWFS exclusion.
The DPG can help schedule and subsidize gambling treatment. Gamblers seeking assistance can call a 24-hour hotline, 1-800-NEXT-STEP, or text NEXTSTEP to 53342.