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Problem gamblers get loophole in Missouri

Monday, July 27, 2009 | 4:13 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Changes to how Missouri casinos do business may make it easier for problem gamblers who have banned themselves from casinos to gamble.

State voters did away with a $500 loss limit last year, meaning casinos no longer require identification from patrons to track how much money they're spending. Gambling counselors say if ID isn't being checked, it's easier for those who have banned themselves from casinos to get through if they change their minds and decide to gamble.

State regulators told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in Monday's edition that problem gamblers are still being caught. They say relapsed addicts are identified when they try to cash a check or get a cash advance on their credit card, they said.

Also if they claim a large jackpot, such as more than $1,200 at the slots, gamblers must file an IRS form. The cashier matches winners against the self-exclusion list. Banned gamblers are arrested and forfeit the money.

In 1996, Missouri began a program where self-identified problem gamblers could put themselves on a list where they would be arrested for trespassing if caught on casino premises. More than 14,000 have signed up and that list is still in effect.

But Missouri also had a loss limit program to try and contain how much money people spent at casinos. Before loss limits were repealed, every gambler had to present a driver's license or other state-issued ID. Identifying information was required to get a mandatory player's card in Missouri. That's no longer happening.

Missouri casinos say they still do all they can to police the list of people who have banned themselves from casinos.

Security officers are stationed at electronic turnstiles which count patrons as they enter. A count is required because casinos must pay $1 to the state and $1 to City Hall for each patron. The guards can ask for IDs.

While player's cards are no longer required, regular gamblers still use them because they want to get the complimentary meals and other rewards casinos offer in return for playing the games.

But the elimination of the need to show ID before gambling in Missouri appears to have led some back to the gaming floors.

Rick Cox, who counsels problem gamblers in St. Charles, said a man who had quit gambling returned to the casinos in November, telling Cox, "Once I found out that you didn't need a card anymore, it changed my thinking completely." The man gambled for months before being arrested.

Overall, arrests of those who shouldn't be in casinos are down. Gaming agents at the state's 12 casinos arrested 480 people on the "disassociated persons list" in the first half of 2009, compared with 584 during the same period last year, according to the Missouri Highway Patrol's gaming division. That's a drop of nearly 18 percent.

However, the number of people trying to stay away by placing themselves on the banned list keeps growing. An executive with Ameristar Casinos Inc., Troy Stremming, said he's glad about it. "We don't want them in there" if they're problem gamblers, he said.

Experts estimate that problem and pathological gambling affects from 2 percent to 4 percent of the adult population. Symptoms include being preoccupied with gambling, gambling to escape from problems and lying to family members to conceal the extent of gambling.

 


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