Ohio Crafting Gambling Rules As Other States Loosen Regulation
With the down economy, several states that allow gambling have been changing the rules. One state is raising the amount of bets that can be placed - from $5 to $100. Another is lightening the self-imposed casino bans that problem gamblers have placed upon themselves. Ohio is still crafting its casino rules, although none of its four voter-approved casinos has begun operating yet. Two of them - in Cleveland and Toledo - are expected to open their doors early next year. Until then, Ohio's state-authorized Casino Control Commission is hurrying to draft and implement gambling rules. Jo Ann Davidson is chairman of the Casino Control Commission. "We are drafting now all the rules and regulations on it and as the regulatory enforcement body, those need to be in line as these casinos move fairly quickly towards opening during the first quarter of next year," Davidson said. The gambling commissioners have met more than 20 times since their body was created in February. Davidson says the commission has not had time to decide on what a gambler's betting amounts might be limited to. Nor are betting limits established in House Bill 386. That bill places further regulations on gambling and is now making its way through the legislature. "There are no limits currently placed in the bill and it's not something that commissioners have had any lengthy discussions on at this particular time," Davidson said. Some people suggest that higher betting levels mean more revenue for cash-strapped states. Keith Whyte is executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. He says raising betting limits is a trend that's making its way across the U.S. "As revenues level off, as states need more and more tax money, they are turning to the industry and loosening regulations or encouraging expansion so really a lot of this is being pushed by state government that is desperate for what they see as a tax on the willing. We also see that as a tax on the unwell," Whyte says. "So it can have negative impacts on problem gamblers. But it's important to note that many of these measures that were put in place were not put together with problem gambling experts. They were really more political compromises." Problem gamblers in Ohio will have the chance to voluntarily bar themselves from casinos. Jo Ann Davidson says that's because state law requires it. "The implementing legislation that the legislature enacted on casinos requires that we do a voluntary exclusion program which would provide people an opportunity to voluntarily exclude themselves for one year or five years or for a lifetime exclusion." Under Ohio law, a person could ban themselves from the state's casinos for one year, five years or for a lifetime. According to state law, the problem gambler could apply for reinstatement after one or five years, but if he or she signed up for the lifetime ban, the exclusion would be permanent with no appeal possible. Keith Whyte of the National Council on Problem Gambling says he thinks this three-tiered approach is a good one. "By having multiple levels, you're helping meet people where they're at and there are a wide variety of people with gambling problems and they need a wide variety of services. So having lower limits can help people that are moderate, sub-clinical levels, it can help people that are binging. And it's also a much lower barrier to entry if you will. "Many people, when given the option will sign up for a lower ban, then once they stop gambling, get into some good recovery they may then decide to go for a lifetime ban. And so it can be very helpful that way. But having a lifetime option is also important. Because there are some people who have such difficult gambling problems that they should have the option to ban for a lifetimes and because it is a chronic and relapsing disease, that lifetime ban can help some people that with all the best intentions try and break that ban. Some people do need that lifetime support." But the state of Missouri recently dropped its lifetime ban thus allowing problem gamblers back into casinos within a certain number of years. While Keith Whyte says he thinks the concept of a self-imposed ban is a good one, he says experience shows there's often a lack of enforcement. "It's almost farsical. In many jurisdictions there's a loose leaf binder at the security checkpoint and the security personnel are supposed to pick out these dozens of faces out of the crowd of thousands that come in per day. It's really hard to see how it can be effectively done. " The chairman of Ohio's Casino Control Commission, Jo Ann Davidson, says her commission is studying what other states are doing as the commission works to continue to draft Ohio's rules and regulations.