Gambler Ban List Raising Some Questions


Headline Legal News

Gambler Ban List Raising Some Questions

by Adam Goldman
Associated Press
Feb. 26, 2004

Virginia Ormanian burned through most of her retirement savings
playing slot machines in Detroit casinos last year – something she
should not have been allowed to do.

The 49-year-old gambling addict had voluntarily banned herself in
August 2002 from the casinos through a state program that was supposed
to keep her out.

“I was counting on the casinos to honor their contract,” Ormanian
said. “I had to get my life back together.”

Now Ormanian and Norma Astourian are suing the casinos for breach of
contract. They claim the gambling companies didn’t enforce the rules
of the “dissociated persons” list on which they placed themselves.

As gambling spreads across the country, a handful of states have
created self-exclusion lists that bar people from entering
casinos. Problem gamblers who have blacklisted themselves are supposed
to forfeit jackpots and face arrest if caught inside.

The lists have raised questions in the gambling industry and given
rise to studies about their effectiveness. They’ve come under legal
assault from gambling addicts who believe it’s up to casinos to ensure
they stop frittering away their money.

“It was a vehicle to allow the gambler to help himself. It’s through
the genius of our legal system that this has metamorphasized into a
potential risk for casinos,” said David O. Stewart, a Washington,
D.C., lawyer, who has defended gambling companies in self-exclusion
and similar lawsuits, and advises the American Gaming Association.

Missouri, Louisiana, Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey have
self-exclusion lists with more than 8,600 names. Indiana has passed
laws to enact a list.

Nevada, the nation’s largest gambling state, doesn’t fund a
self-exclusion list, though casinos will bar patrons on request.

Carol O’Hare, executive director of the Nevada Council on Problem
Gambling, said it would be a logistical nightmare in a state in which
slot machines are also found in bars, gas stations and supermarkets.

“You’d have to police every 7-Eleven and restaurant,” she said. “We
need to be providing treatment.”

Missouri was one of the first states to introduce the exclusion
program in 1997 and counts more than 6,400 people on its list.

Kevin Mullally, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission,
said the list was conceived as a tool to help people shake their

“It’s not a panacea or a quick fix,” he said.

Like other states, Missouri’s exclusion list shields people from
direct marketing, and when casinos violate the policy, they can be
fined or lose their gambling license.

Judy Patterson, the AGA’s executive director and senior vice
president, said there’s no uniform self-exclusion policy among states.

“I think the industry is definitely supportive of this self-exclusion
program, but they would also like to know that it works,” she said.

Harvard Medical School’s Institute for Research on Pathological
Gambling and Related Disorders was awarded a grant to study the
effectiveness of Missouri’s program.

Robert Ladouceur, a professor of psychology at Laval University in
Quebec, said his new study involving three casinos and about 200
compulsive gamblers shows “there is some usefulness” to self-exclusion

One casino operator isn’t waiting for definitive data.

Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment intends to create a database of
problem gamblers who would be barred for life from its 19 properties
in the United States.

People can be placed on the company’s “Responsible Gaming List”
voluntarily – or involuntarily if casino employees determine patrons
are problem gamblers.

Lurking behind such lists is a question about the legality of the
contracts people sign with the states and casinos, and whether the
pacts are enforceable.

A suit filed by Ormanian and Astourian against the Michigan Gaming
Control Board was dismissed.

Stewart said no plaintiff has yet to win such a lawsuit, but a verdict
against the casinos could have repercussions.

The case of Daniel Santangelo has garnered attention in the industry
and could be seen as a legal bellwether.

Santangelo had voluntarily banned himself from New Jersey casinos but
later violated the self-imposed order. He won $64,160 at Bally’s
Atlantic City over a 10-week period in 2002, breaking the agreement
that said he couldn’t collect winnings. He kept the money but
authorities have ordered him to forfeit it.

Linda Kassekert, chairwoman of the New Jersey Casino Control
Commission, said the state intends to recover the money.

“These are untested waters,” she said. “I think we are going to be
pretty emphatic. We want to make sure that when people sign up for
this program they know we are serious about it.”

Copyright 2004 Associated Press