“Stay away,” is the basic message behind Iowa’s Voluntary Self-Exclusion Program. The program does just what it says. It allows casino and lottery players to request exclusion from gambling in the state.
But some players who have self-excluded — out of about 9,000 in total — return to Iowa casinos to gamble anyway.
If they’re caught, they’ll be accompanied off the premises. And they may be cited for or even charged with criminal trespassing.
Too easy access?
Casinos don’t have to ask for ID for someone to access the gaming floor, according to KCCI of Des Moines. So self-excluded players may go unnoticed. Unless they win and try to claim a jackpot, use a player’s club card, or make a cash transaction over a certain amount.
Then they will, by law, have to forfeit their winnings. And there may be more consequences in the form of those criminal trespassing charges.
Casinos transfer such an ineligible jackpot to Iowa’s general fund. And any funds used in play don’t get returned to a self-banned player.
Danny, a self-excluded gambler who returned to a casino, told KCCI that he couldn’t take home winnings more than once. And one time an unclaimable prize allegedly cost him the $50,000 he had gambled to win it.
About Iowa’s Voluntary Self-Exclusion Program
Self-excluding could go a long way toward curtailing gambling addiction.
Chad Moine, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Isle in Waterloo told Play Iowa, “Self-exclusion… helps keep gaming what it is intended for, an entertainment option.”
Self-excluded players won’t receive promotional materials, including member’s club notices.
Only players who want to exclude themselves can sign up to do so; friends or family members can’t do it for them. A worried friend or family member may, however, call the security department at a casino and alert them that the self-excluded player is there gambling.
All state-licensed Iowa casino gaming floors bar self-excluded gamblers. Different casinos have different policies as to whether or not a self-excluded person can participate at casino-related venues.
The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) program lets players willingly ban themselves from:
- Sports wagering
- Fantasy sports
Since 2005, the Iowa Lottery has had its self-exclusion program. The program restricts self-excluded players from claiming a prize of more than $600.
People who self-ban from the Iowa Lottery or via the IRGC have two time-limit options:
- Renewable five-year self-exclusion. Players can re-register after expiration.
- Lifetime self-exclusion. In July 2017, this option became irrevocable.
The IRGC and the Lottery each keep a confidential database. The database includes the names and Social Security numbers of players registered for self-exclusion. Non-state-licensed Tribal casinos may have their self-exclusion policies; check with them individually.
Casinos are accountable, too
Brian Ohorilko, the administrator of the IRGC, told KCCI that it’s difficult for casinos to spot a self-excluded player unless an employee scans their ID.
Slot players don’t necessarily engage with casino staff, and table players may have minimal engagement with casino employees.
Casinos may be subject to fines when a self-excluded player is involved. Diamond Jo Casino and the three Wild Rose Casinos have been on the receiving end of penalties.
Altogether, fines levied by the IRGC have totaled around $194,500 in the last few years. Sportsbooks can also be subject to fines, not just casinos.
In 2020, Boston-based DraftKings’ fantasy sports got a $5,000 fine for failure to download an updated self-exclusion list. The fine could have landed at as much as $20,000, according to casino.org.
And before that, DraftKings paid a fine of $1,000 due to letting self-excluded players open accounts.
As of 2020, the only sportsbook the IRGC fined was the one run by William Hill. Again, for permitting a transaction by a self-excluded participant.
The IRGC doesn’t track self-excluded players who’ve been discovered at casinos, a fact Ohorilko seems to regret.
How to enter Iowa’s self-exclusion program
The IRGC lists several self-exclusion options on its website:
- Mailing a printed, signed, and notarized enrollment form. Request a mailable form from the IRGC by phone at 515-281-7352. Or by email at [email protected], or by online contact form.
- In person at the IRGC office in Des Moines. The Lottery offers notary services in its offices; do not sign unless one is present to witness it.
- In person at an Iowa Gambling Treatment Program
- Register at casinos. Verify that the form applies statewide.
A self-exclusion request can take up to 14 days for processing. If you’d like more information about Iowa and Nebraska’s self-exclusion program you can read more here.
When is gambling addiction and not entertainment?
Problem gambling is “the silent addiction.” The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) separates gambling disorders into mild, moderate, and severe categories, depending on how many symptoms are present.
Personal finance website WalletHub separates recreational or social gambling from problem gambling. Most importantly, recreational gamblers “are mentally able to quit at any point and prevent catastrophic financial loss.”
Warning signs of gambling addiction include:
- Repeated attempts to control, cut back on, or stop gambling
- Gambling to relieve distress
- Relying on others to provide money to relieve the financial consequences of gambling
- Lying to hide gambling
- This spring, Iowa ranked 22nd in WalletHub’s list of gambling addiction prevalence by state.