Legislation up for consideration in Michigan would allow some people to have a second chance at gambling.
On Tuesday in Lansing, the House Regulatory Reform Committee met to briefly discuss House Bill 4686, sponsored by state Rep. Ryan Berman, a Republican. Berman told the committee that the Michigan Gaming Control Board’s voluntary self-exclusion list, which applies to just the three commercial casinos in Detroit and not the more than 20 tribal casinos, should give people more options than just a lifetime ban. His bill would allow people to opt out after five years.
There are about 4,800 people currently on the list, the MGCB testified. Berman said the lifetime requirement can actually dissuade some people from utilizing the tool to control their habit.
“People are hesitant to use the list as a tool for help because it carries a lifetime ban, and not a set number of years,” he told the committee.
Estimates of the number of problem gamblers in Michigan vary greatly, but a report last year from Detroit News said it’s as high as 300,000. That would be 2-3% of the population. According to a legislative analysis of the bill, about a dozen disassociated gamblers are discovered at the casinos each month.
Berman said that someone in the state came to him after 10 years on the list and complained that it was impacting his ability to frequent casinos in other states, which is another problem with the mandatory lifetime requirement, according to the state lawmaker.
“The problem is that … if someone places themselves on this it’s a lifetime ban, and there is no way to get their name off this list currently under our law,” Berman said. “This [issue] was brought to me by a person who thought he doesn’t need to go to the Detroit casinos, he only gambles when he goes to Las Vegas.
“So, he put his name on the list, and what happened was when he went out to Las Vegas, one of the casinos took away his players card. They wouldn’t allow him to gamble in Las Vegas, so it affected his ability there. He asked me how he could get off this list, it’s been 10 years. I looked it up and it seems there is no way. But this individual can go to the tribal casinos in our state, he drives across the border to Windsor, he goes to Ohio. The lifetime ban is excessive, circumstances change.”
The bill was supported by the Michigan Association on Problem Gambling. The group said at the hearing that it wants more people to use the list and a way to accomplish that is by removing the lifetime exclusion. According to its website, about 100,000 people in the state “have struggled with gambling disorder.”
The Michigan Gaming Control Board, the state’s commercial casino regulator, testified in support of the legislation as well, saying that it would be an effective policy.
David Murley, deputy director of the MGCB, told the committee that gamblers in the state with a lifetime ban in Detroit still have many options to gamble, both in Michigan and out of state, and that the current dissociated persons list isn’t working as well as it could.
Murley referenced the upcoming online casino/sports betting industry, which was enabled by a law enacted late last year. According to Murley, it appears the MGCB won’t automatically put the 4,800 people on the existing list onto an exclusion list for iCasino. In other words, it would be the responsibility of individuals to self-exclude additionally from online gambling if they felt it was necessary.
“The interesting thing will be in a year from now, once we have the mobile [gambling] systems up and running, a person on the disassociated persons list could adhere to the rules, could not step foot within the casino, but could stand outside and play on, say, the MGM, MotorCity, or Greektown mobile apps, the very games they are prohibited from playing once they step foot in that casino,” Murley testified.
According to the Lawful Internet Gaming Act, the MGCB does have the authority to add the 4,800 people to a new ban list. Under the law, the board could add an individual “on a valid and current exclusion list maintained by this state or another jurisdiction in the United States” to a responsible gaming database for prohibiting online play. Unlike brick-and-mortar casino gambling, the Lawful Internet Gaming Act calls for bettors to be able to exclude themselves from play both temporarily and permanently.
Murley concluded by reiterating that the brick-and-mortar self-exclusion list would be more effective if there was a five-year option. He added that it could save resources that have to be used to prosecute individuals for trespassing.
“In terms of whether we are stopping problem gamblers from gambling, I think the evidence is still out,” he said. “We think it [the bill] is a good idea, this is a step in the right direction. Other states have one-year, three-year, five-year bans, different ways of approaching this. With a five-year ban, it will allow more people to sign up without fear that this will be forever. Hopefully we can see a reduction in the number of criminal cases we see.”