JB Pritzker

Illinois Gambling Addiction Program Expects Enrollment Surge

A confidential list of more than 13,000 people in Illinois registered in a voluntary casino exclusion program for gambling addicts is projected to grow with the upcoming massive expansion of gambling and the start of legalized sports betting, according to the state gaming board.

Opponents say the people who signed up for the Self-Exclusion Program represent just a small portion of the number of gambling addicts in the state, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

"That's just the tip of the iceberg," said Les Bernal, national director of the Stop Predatory Gambling advocacy group. "Most people who have a problem never come forward."

The program's private list, which the Illinois Gaming Board has overseen since 2002, doesn't prohibit participants from entering any of the state's 10 existing casinos.

Instead, participants who try to collect winnings at casinos are required to surrender their casino chips or tokens, which are given to nonprofit groups that assist gambling addicts. If that person subsequently re-enters a casino, they could face "the distinct possibility" of being arrested for trespassing, the board said.

The program "was created to help problem gamblers help themselves," the board says on its website.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation June 28 that includes a provision for the creation of six new land-based casinos. The measure also contains a provision for people to bar themselves from creating a sports wagering account.

There is no self-exclusion program at any Illinois racetracks, nor has there been any effort to deter compulsive gamblers from using any of the more than 30,000 video gaming terminals installed at 6,773 establishments across the state. Gambling opponents consider the terminals to be a potentially more addictive enticement and view the present program as little more than a gimmick.

"It puts the onus on people who can't control themselves and who often have threadbare support networks," said Bernal, who approximates the 9,224 Illinoisans in the program reflect around 5% of Illinois' gambling addicts. That number would put the total at over 184,000 — which is roughly one in every 68 Illinois residents.

Program participants aren't mandated to answer all background questions, but seven people noted when they registered that they had lost over $1 million by gambling within the past year. Nine gamblers estimated they had lost between $500,000 and $1 million.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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