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State law plays catch-up to keep gambling addicts away from direct advertising

Pennsylvania’s gambling exclusion list has grown as the industry has expanded, but there are few limits on advertising to problem gamblers.

But that could change if a bill passes that would fine companies that advertise to anyone on the gambling self-exclusion list.

Senate Bill 1211, introduced by Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Pittsburgh, prohibits direct advertising to anyone on the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board’s self-exclusion list and denies any self-excluded person from redeeming points or accessing complimentary services from licensed gaming entities.

Gambling companies would need to update their internal systems every 48 hours to ensure no one on the exclusion list ends up on a list for their marketing materials.

“Research certainly shows that online casinos continue to break revenue records. But at the same time, so has addiction and gambling problems,” Fontana said. “We’re trying to put some curbs on it, trying to protect the consumer to some degree.”

Fontana said he feels an obligation to limit the social problems that come with gambling as a result of the General Assembly approving gambling expansion.

“Promote the chasing of the gambling losses. those are the kinds of things we’re trying to limit,” Fontana said. “Once a person says ‘Hey, I got a problem,’ everybody should respect that and do their best to try to remedy it — not lure them further into gambling debt.”

The PGCB keeps two lists of excluded residents: one is the involuntary exclusion list, which comes from someone violating a casino or online gambling policy or law, and the self-exclusion list, where residents add themselves. For fiscal year 2022-23, 135 people were added to the involuntary exclusion list (more than half of them for child endangerment or theft) and the self-exclusion list reached 20,000 people.

Anyone on the involuntary exclusion list must petition the board to be removed, but residents under self-exclusion can request removal after the end of their ban passes (one year or five years).

“I bet you I’ve had 20 calls about this legislation — more than any other legislation I’ve had,” Fontana said. “This stuff is seen to move. People support it without a doubt.”

He said even gamblers have approached him in his district to say how much they like the bill.

“Nobody wants to chase debt; they want people to stay within their means,” Fontana said. “I don’t see why it wouldn’t be encouraged. Everyone should be all in with it.”

Advertising the nation’s gambling addiction hotline, 1-800-GAMBLER, isn’t enough, he said, to keep up with the social problems and changes in gambling that legislators didn’t anticipate.

“I think the increase — skill games is one thing and I’m not for them. But on the other side is online gaming where you get young people on their phones gambling,” Fontana said. “That wasn’t even thought of in 2006. Now, it’s just going through the ceiling, everybody’s on board. Back then the professional sports teams were against gambling — now they’re partners. It’s changed so much it’s not even funny, and we did not anticipate any of that back then. We have to adjust — we should adjust — to whatever negatives come up with all this.”

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