YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — March is National Problem Gambling Awareness Month, and more and more people are signing up for a service with the state of Ohio to ban themselves from casinos in the Buckeye State.
New data released Tuesday from the Ohio Casino Control Commission shows hundreds of problem gamblers in several states policing themselves by putting their names and faces on a list, essentially telling Ohio casino operators not to let them play or get paid. Problem gamblers can apply to be banned for one year, five years, or life.
As of Monday, 801 people from 11 states and Ontario, Canada are listed in the Ohio Casino Control Commission’s Voluntary Exclusion Program. They are banned from the Buckeye State’s four casinos and face a criminal charge if caught betting or collecting.
“We’re going to confiscate any of their winnings that they should have and the second is they’re going to be charged with trespassing,” said Laura Clemens with the Ohio Casino Control Commission.
Of the more than 800 people signed up for the Voluntary Exclusion Program, 677 are from Ohio. That is 85 percent. Six are from Trumbull County and four are from Mahoning County.
But counselors said the program is just one tool to fight gambling addiction.
“Without real change in their life, just taking away their casino trips is not going to really quell that urge to gamble. They’ll find something else and we found it. We’ve got people who spend several hundred dollars a week just on scratch-off tickets,” said National Certified Gambling Counselor Lynn Burkey.
She said anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 people in the Valley could be classified as problem gamblers, but most go unrecognized or unreported.
“There’s a completely separate list of gamblers who have banned themselves from Ohio’s racinos, combined horse race tracks and slot machine parlors, like the one set to open in Austintown this fall,” Burkey said.
A person’s name and picture are sent to the casino operators when they apply for the program. But the list is kept confidential to the public.
“If a spouse, or family member, or an employer wants to know if you’re on the list, I cannot tell them,” Clemens said.
She expects the banned list to continue to grow as more gambling establishments open across Ohio, including the racino in Austintown, which is slated to open later this year.
Jim Baldacci, deputy chief compliance officer for Penn National Gaming, which will operate the racino, said .3325 percent of video lottery terminal revenue goes toward responsible gambling programs.
Austintown Township Trustee Jim Davis said construction is on schedule for a late September or early October opening for Hollywood Slots at Mahoning Valley Race Course.
Crews were continuing to move dirt for the casino and horse stables on Tuesday. Davis said the activity already has spawned other retail and hotels to expand and think about locating just off Interstate 80 in Austintown.
“We’ve got another hotel coming. You see major renovations of other hotels in the area down there, the local restaurants, different national chains talking about coming to the area, so it’s really an exciting time for our community,” Davis said.