AUGUSTA — A program meant to help problem gamblers stay out of Maine’s two casinos is expanding, according to the state’s Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services and the Maine Gambling Control Board.
Working with Hollywood Casino in Bangor and Oxford Casino in Oxford, the agencies are adding to the places people can sign up to exclude themselves.
Before the expansion, the only place a problem gambler could sign up to be banned from a casino was at the casino itself. The new program adds 10 places scattered around the state at health care and community-based treatment centers.
The so-called “self-exclusion” process allows a person who believes she has a gambling problem or gambling addiction to place herself on a list of people who are banned from the casino.
Under Maine law, once they do that, they can be arrested for trespassing if they go into a casino. They also are required to forfeit any winnings to the state.
“Self-exclusion is a self-help process where an individual chooses, through a signed agreement, to not enter a casino for a period of one to five years, or in some cases, a lifetime,” according to a release from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
Keith White, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Council on Problem Gambling, praised the move by Maine, saying giving people a place besides the casino to sign up for exclusion was “huge.”
White said it was ironic that in many states the only place to sign up for self-exclusion is the very place where a person is most vulnerable to his addiction.
Self-exclusion is most effective when it is applied to people who have already admitted they have a problem and have sought help for it, White said.
“Self-exclusion by itself is a pretty narrow treatment tool, but when it is buttressed on either side by appropriate counseling and adequate enforcement it can be very effective,” White said.
Guy Cousins, director of Maine’s Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, said casino gambling is only one form of gambling that takes place in the Pine Tree State and that most people gamble responsibly.
But, “for some, gambling has become an addiction that can cause major problems with work, relationships and family,” Cousins said.
Christine Theriault, prevention manager for the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, said the state hasn’t yet begun collecting data on the number of people who have self-excluded but will under the new program.
Under the current system, the casinos keep the data on who has self-excluded.
The state spends about $100,000 a year on gambling addiction and prevention programs. All of that money comes from funds paid into the state by the two casinos.
Theriault, like White, said giving a person with a gambling problem another location besides the casino to sign up for self-exclusion will help significantly.
“For years, the only place you could self-exclude was at the casino,” Theriault said. “It’s like sending an alcoholic to the bar to attend Alcoholics Anonymous.”
Theriault said her agency will host a conference in March on problem-gambling awareness that will focus on combining program resources to better treat and prevent the problem.
The 10 new sites where a person can sign up for self-exclusion include the Aroostook County Action Program; Bangor Health and Community Services; Houlton Band of Maliseets Health and Wellness Center; Kennebec Behavioral Health in Skowhegan and Augusta; the Maine Gambling Control Board in Augusta; Mid-Coast Behavioral Health in Brunswick; Portland City Hall; Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway; Wabanaki Health &Wellness in Bangor; Washington County-One Community in Machias; and York Hospital Community Health in York.
People who believe they may have a gambling problem should dial 211 or visit www.211maine.org.
For more information on Maine’s self-exclusion program, including the locations to self-exclude, go to www.maine.gov/selfexclusion.