Brief thoughts on self-exclusion

There are many things a gambler can do at the moment if they think they have a problem controlling their spending. They can call GamCare, the industry-funded charity; they can use mandatory and voluntary machine limits, or they can self-exclude from shops. Here’s a problem with self-exclusion – it’s broken and doesn’t work.

At Ladbrokes, you can self-exclude for up to a year (details online on the official Ladbrokes website list it as up to five years, but this hasn’t been updated, presumably because no one can be arsed). The onus is completely on you, the problem gambler, to make sure you abide by the terms of the self-exclusion. You have to provide a good photograph and hope that it’s processed properly. You have to hope you don’t have something like this go in the system –

self ex

There are about 30 odd shops in Birmingham city centre. So once you’ve self-excluded from that one, you’ve got to make sure you don’t go into any of those. Make sure you do the same process in the other shops, make sure the picture is just as good. Evidently, this system isn’t working. From April 2012-March 2014, there were 46,999 self-exclusions. Because you have to fill out forms for individual company’s shops (customers are encouraged to self-exclude from other shops/casinos/bingo halls) it’s not known how many are individual self-exclusions. In that same period, there were 34,378 known breaches of self-exclusions.

The system isn’t working.

As with the machine limits, the task of making sure problem gamblers don’t gamble is left up to the customer and the cashier. Even if everything goes perfectly, you’ve got to hope that today’s staff members have seen and memorised the new self-exclusion form (I worked in a quiet shop and we had dozens, it was impossible to memorise all of them). You’ve got to hope that someone who is covering a break will check the folder (no one does; why would they?). There’s no pressure on staff to check and memorise the forms. Even if they did it once a week, once a day, they can’t and shouldn’t be expected to memorise dozens of forms. Legally, companies are covered, so it’s not made a priority. It’s up to the problem gambler to stay out and keep out.

Shortly after the machine limits went live, Ladbrokes released a statement via their weekly newsletter, What’s Happening. It responded to complaints from staff that they were expected to be counselors and psychologists, as well as doing a million other jobs. Ladbrokes didn’t accept this suggestion, but didn’t really explain how it wasn’t true. Cashiers are expected to look out for signs of stress in customers and deal with it accordingly. If the customer isn’t outwardly stressing out, then the customer is left to their own devices.

Just because a customer isn’t shouting, kicking, or spitting, there’s still a chance that they’re not in control, that they’re spending beyond their means. Once a customer has been interacted with about their machine play, a cashier is to monitor their habits and only intervene if they’re not playing or behaving as usual. How am I supposed to know what’s usual from seeing someone sit at a machine? How do I know that that £200 they’ve just loaded onto the machine isn’t their last £200? That they’re going to leave the shop and beg, borrow or steal some money?

Self-exclusion doesn’t work.

Mandatory machine limits don’t work.

There’s little to no data about voluntary limits.

Who is expected to sort all this out? The cashier, the person just barely above minimum wage. It’s up to them to adhere to Think 21 procedures, keep the shop tidy, process bets, oh, and psychoanalyse customers as they play roulette. Generate the paperwork, do the bare minimum, because that’s all you need to do.

What’s the solution? Maybe making loyalty cards compulsory. Track spending habits, make machine limits mandatory, lock out a card once it goes over a daily, weekly, monthly limit, tie the cards to debit cards. Nothing like this is going to be implemented until they’re forced to. Until something happens, we’re left with self-exclusion and poking the customer on the shoulder and asking if they’re okay, which we all know isn’t doing anything.

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