A legislative proposal registered this autumn in the Senate aims to introduce as the responsibility of gambling organizers the creation of a centralized electronic database to manage people requesting self-exclusion. If this initiative is to be adopted, operators will have the obligation to identify the persons entering the premises and to maintain records of their identification details in electronic format.
Self-exclusion is one of the most handy measures of protection in the field of social responsibility against the danger posed by excessive gambling. However, it is also the most restrictive, according to psychologists. From a psychological perspective, worldwide, specialists in gambling behaviors have contradictory opinions about the usefulness of self-exclusion as a form of reducing the damage caused by excessive gambling, opinions that actually claim that such measure do not solve the underlying problem of a gambler who has crossed the border of fun. Some suggest that this tool is an appropriate public health response to minimize risks, while others see it as a reactive, inflexible approach, facilitating short-term abstinence rather than the self-control of the affected person, as is the case of the Australian Gambling Commission, the counterpart of the Romanian National Gambling Office.
In a report released in 2010, the Commission specifies that a potential request for self-exclusion from a gambler who is experiencing problems may cause that person embarrassment or a strong feeling of shame and could potentially act as a discouraging factor. A consequence, therefore, of a possible stigma that a vulnerable person may feel when seeking help. The Australians believe that if a gambler has taken steps to stop pathological gambling, imposing a visit to a gambling location to make such a request can be counterproductive, exposing the person to gambling once again. This also applies to online gambling, where the gambler is required to visit the website in order to file such a request.
Regarding the practical side of what self-exclusion represents, next, we aim to find out which countries in the world implement self-exclusion as a measure of protection for gamblers, but specifically how they apply it.
In the UK, gambling organizers are required to be part of the Multi-Operator Self-Exclusion Schemes (MOSES), which allows a person to file a single request for self-exclusion from gambling locations in the area where that person lives. The measure is also applicable to types of gambling activities, not only to operators, and once registered in such a database, the gambler will no longer be admitted to any location, of any company. A similar system has also been adopted in Switzerland. However, research in North America and Europe on how the self-exclusion measure is implemented has revealed that it is not known for sure whether self-excluded gamblers gamble in other countries or places close to the borders of the countries in which they live and that this measure may prove ineffective in the absence of interstate cooperation.
In the US State of New Jersey, there are four options provided by the State authority (through its responsible gambling program) for an individual to restrict his/her access to gambling: either send a request by e-mail (for online gambling activities) or block the account opened on the gambling platform or file, in person, a request with the National Council on Problem Gambling, which can cover, optionally, both forms of gambling (traditional and remote) or one of them. The period for which the restriction of access may be requested can be of one, five years or permanently. In the State of Illinois, once admitted into the database, the applicant is no longer allowed to gamble for five years. After this period, in order for the person to regain access to gambling activities, they will be asked for medical certificates and the results of a completed psychological therapy program associated with gambling addiction.
The European Commission issued in 2014, but only for online gambling, a Guide with recommendations on the compliance with the principles for the protection of consumers and online gamblers, guidelines which, among other things, recommend Member States to “adopt electronic identification systems in the registration process”. According to a report released in 2018 by the EBGA, this year, only one country has closely followed the guidelines provided by the Commission for the online environment. This country is Denmark, which has a national register of self-excluded persons, through its State authority. According to the report, only 14 EU Member States have registers of gamblers who have reported problems with online gambling and which are managed by the authority or the organizers of remote gambling. In Spain, the entry of a gambler in the online self-exclusion register is considered permanent. In France, the minimum period for self-exclusion is 7 days, while in Italy self-exclusion can be requested for 30, 60, 90 days or permanently. In Lithuania, the minimum period is 6 months, in Portugal, 3, and in Latvia and Germany, it has been set for 12 months. In Romania, according to the legislation in force, gambling organizers have the obligation to provide gamblers with an option allowing them to request a temporary or permanent exclusion or interruption of access to the game for a predetermined period of up to 7 days. The gambler can request their removal from the electronic register only after the expiration of a 6-month term from their registration.
Regarding the legislative proposal registered this autumn in the Senate, beyond the many legal issues – including the compliance with the GDPR – that such a legislative initiative calls into question, but especially the series of technical details that may lead (or not) towards the successful implementation of the measure and which must be correlated with an impact study, such an initiative may be appropriate only in the context of taking on specialist research and examples of best practices that countries with extensive experience in gambling provide.
“There are many companies that have adopted such self-exclusion procedures internally. There is progress in the gambling organizers’ orientation towards accountability. Given that self-exclusion does not solve the underlying problem, namely compulsive gambling, enforcing exclusionary measures in any form will certainly generate other problems of violation of the law. More precisely, pushing the self-excluded to access external gambling sites. Even if this is not allowed by law, and Internet providers have the obligation to set IP/DNS blocking, these filters can be avoided and, due to desperation, this will be a chosen path. Another concern may come from the reappearance in Romania of unlicensed gambling environments, specifically the black market. From my point of view, the focus of all, both of the authority and of the market, must be on two directions, education and prevention and the provision of specialized support, psychological and/or psychiatric therapy”, says Liviu Popovici, Chairman of Romanian Bookmakers.