If you exclude yourself from any type of gaming in Pennsylvania, you may be invoking the law of unintended consequences.

The state has developed multiple state self-exclusion lists over time. They are meant to allow problem gamblers to confidentially opt-out of specific gaming segments in PA.

But that’s not how the government lists are working in reality. In turn, it has opened up a can of worms for both bettors and gambling companies, even beyond the Keystone State.

Self-exclusion can have unintended consequences

Opting out on one PA list can have larger consequences in regulated gambling states besides Pennsylvania.

You could, for instance, opt-out of wagering via online casino sites here, but then discover you are de facto unable to make wagers in other jurisdictions. That’s because multi-state operators routinely share exclusion information across properties.

Also, an operator in one vertical could share self-exclusion data with another vertical it operates, effectively leading to an exclusion that was never requested.

FanDuel, and soon DraftKings, in multiple verticals with separate lists

Currently, three PA online operators are in multiple verticals with nothing legally preventing them from sharing self-exclusion information across those verticals, according to the state.

Rush Street Gaming is the parent company behind two casinos, Rivers Pittsburgh and SugarHouse, which is rebranding to Rivers Philadelphia. Rush also operates an online sportsbook and an online casino. That means multiple exclusion lists are involved.

FanDuel operates in two verticals, with a sportsbook and fantasy sports. And PA fantasy operator, DraftKings, is also soon to enter the PA sportsbook market.

That would mean each would function both as a sportsbook and a fantasy sports operator. There are separate PA self-exclusion lists for each of those forms of wagering.

Both companies have policies indicating an exclusion anywhere will have ramifications everywhere.

DraftKings’ policy is not to allow someone who self-excludes anywhere they operate to wager anywhere else they operate, as would be the case with a multi-state casino operator.

But they go a step further.

The company’s exclusion policy, as stated on their New Jersey sportsbook site, allowing gamblers to self-exclude from DraftKing directly reads:

By filling out this form, you will be self-excluded from all DraftKings products in all locations.
FanDuel also extends exclusions, according to a statement by Kevin Hennessy, the company’s director of publicity.

FanDuel Group takes responsible gaming seriously and we work with individual state regulators on the self-exclusion process.  From a company standpoint, if a customer takes the time to report to us or a state regulator that he/she has difficulty managing their behavior and they sign up for a self-exclusion list, we will exclude that customer across states.

For instance, if you self-exclude in NJ, you will be prevented from online wagering on the FanDuel Sportsbook in PA and IN.

Consequences not clearly explained

The extended consequences of a self-exclusion are not clearly spelled out now when signing up on the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) online self-exclusion sites.

The sign-up language to self-exclude currently states, “casinos may have more restrictive self-exclusion policies,” according to Liz Lanza, director of the Office of Compulsive and Problem Gaming of the PGCB.

The PCGB acknowledges the language is not clear enough, and the wording is being revised to be more explicit, said Lanza.

Multiple exclusion lists are an issue

PA has four self-exclusion lists regulated by the PGCB.

Because different segments of gambling were expanded over time in PA, each segment came with its own exclusion list. Most other jurisdictions in the U.S. have either one or at most two self-exclusion lists.

The granddaddy of the PCGB’s self-exclusion lists allows a gambler to bar himself or herself from a physical casino. Nearly 15,000 people have placed themselves on that list, which began with the advent of physical casinos in PA in 2007.

That exclusion application for brick-and-mortar casinos must be filed in person in front of gaming officials. But there are plans to allow gamblers to self-exclude from a brick-and-mortar casino via an online sign-up in the upcoming year.

Self-exclusion online in PA

Then there are the more recent self-exclusion lists dealing with online gaming. Those exclusion forms are always completed online.

The online lists are:

  • A catch-all covering: online casinos and online sportsbooks, fantasy sports wagering, and video gaming terminals (VGTs).
  • Fantasy wagering as a stand-alone.
  • VGTs, the slot-like video gaming terminals only allowed at qualified truck stops as a stand-alone.

The three lists are so new that the PGCB cannot yet provide numbers for how many have signed up on those lists.

There are two more gambling exclusions lists in PA which are outside the scope of this story. The PGCB maintains an involuntary exclusion list of more than 8oo gamblers. The identities of those on that list are public. And the Pennsylvania Lottery also has its self-exclusion list that applies only to iLottery games, though not to retail lottery tickets and scratch games.

The multiple lists add ambiguity and confusion to choosing self-exclusion.

Gaming operators using the data to make exclusion decisions elsewhere

Gambling operators are effectively blackballing individuals without any public notice by simply declining to open any new accounts in all jurisdictions for those who self-exclude in PA, in the view of Josh Ercole, executive director of PA’s Council on Compulsive Gaming.

Ercole said PA’s “piecemeal” enactment of online gambling and safeguards, along with the resulting multiple exclusion lists, has created confusion for patrons.

Ercole said the PCGB sign-ups for self-exclusion leave the impression there is “individual choice” for opting out, but that’s not how it works.

“It trickles down through account activities,” at individual operators extrapolating from the lists provided by PA, added Ercole. “They are putting their own policy into the mix.”

Applying an exclusion elsewhere is “not a secret” within the gambling business,  said Ercole. But patrons are unaware.

PGCB acknowledges disclosure language needs to be clearer

Doug Harbach, a spokesman for PGCB, confirmed: “casinos are de facto doing that.”

Lanza acknowledged in an interview that the current disclosure language needs to be more explicit, with greater detail “laying it out.”

Her office has begun work on that now. Lanza expects new wording to go into place in early 2020.

That wording revision is happening in conjunction with plans to allow self-exclusion from brick-and-mortar casinos via an online portal, rather than in person as now required.

With possible consequences of self-exclusion vaguely stated, Lanza conceded gamblers may not sign up.

She also said her staff is reviewing best practices in other jurisdictions and examining how the new online self-exclusion options in PA “pan out.”

Lanza had proposed a single all-inclusive self-exclusion list. But the board’s legal advisor nixed that approach, saying current gaming law language does not allow for a unified list.

She hopes a change in the law could allow for just a single exclusion list. But nothing is pending in the PA statehouse. Legislators would likely need to pass amendments to allow for a single list.

Clear disclosure of consequences needed

“Exclusion lists are a good idea, but they are a bit of a mess,” said Alan Feldman. He’s a Distinguished Fellow of the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada – Las Vegas.

Feldman consults for MGM and he once worked in Atlantic City. He is also chairman of the National Center for Responsible Gaming and oversees UNLV’s responsible gaming programs.

Feldman said without a clearer disclosure it is “perfectly reasonable” to assume signing up will not effectively bar a patron elsewhere. But that isn’t the reality, he noted.

For instance, Caesars Entertainment, which operates casinos in 13 states, including PA and New Jersey, and also internationally, has a long-standing policy of doing just that.

The company clearly discloses that policy to patrons in writing, something not done by all gambling operators. And not in the language of the PGCB.

Self-disclosure in PA is opaque

Martin Lycka, of the London-based gambling firm GVC Holdings, which has recently begun a responsible gambling foundation in the United States, called PA’s self-exclusion process “opaque.”

That’s because:

Customers are not made aware of the consequences of the individual self-exclusion. On the other hand, always provided that the consequences are clear to customers in advance, I would argue that a statewide self-exclusion database is an efficient means of preventing gambling addiction.

The assistant executive director of The Council of Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, Daniel J. Trolaro, said streamlining lists would mean less room for ambiguity or confusion about exclusion.

In NJ, there are just two self-exclusion lists, a single exclusion list covering casinos and internet wagering, and a second list for every form of online gaming, but not physical casinos.

There are benefits. It is always better with a central list. This sounds like growing pains.

New Jersey began online wagering began six years ago. Online gambling began in PA just this past July. Officials in PA still can learn from their mistakes and make changes, Trolaro said.

Ercole worries without a clearer understanding, problem gamblers may not self-exclude in PA.

“Self-exclusion can be very effective for someone with a readiness to make changes,” said Ercole.