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5,000th person excluded from Pa. casinos

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 5:54 p.m.

Not everyone who enters Presque Isle Downs & Casino and the state's 10 other casinos is looking to gamble.

Some who walk through the casino doors want to stop gambling.

They are the problem gamblers who voluntarily sign up to exclude themselves from the state's casinos for life, or for periods of five years or one year.

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, which regulates the state's casino industry, recorded a milestone when the 5,000th person asked to be banned from the state's casinos.

The number of those using the program has steadily increased since the first two signed up in 2006, when the first Pennsylvania casino opened late that year near Wilkes-Barre.

The largest amount of sign-ups in any one year came in 2012, when 1,454 enrolled, an increase from the 1,265 in 2011. Thus far, 282 people have enrolled this year, the gaming board reported.

“The importance of the program obviously is to assist problem gamblers in the state of Pennsylvania, and surrounding states as well, for those who gamble at Pennsylvania casinos,” said Liz Lanza, director of the gaming board's Office of Compulsive and Problem Gambling.

“We use this program not as a treatment, but as a gateway to treatment,” Lanza said.

When problem gamblers sign up, they are told about gambling treatment providers in their area and Gamblers Anonymous meetings, she said.

Treatment is free through the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, gaming board spokesman Richard McGarvey said.

The board does not break down the number of people who sign up by county, or by casino. But Presque Isle Downs spokeswoman Jennifer See said every Pennsylvania casino is told when a person excludes himself or herself when he or she signs up in the gaming board offices at the Erie casino or the other casinos.

Other gaming board field offices are in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Scranton and Conshohocken in Montgomery County.

Lanza said gaming board offices inside the casinos are open 24 hours a day.

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