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casinoline.jpgJohn Kuntz/The Plain DealerPeople waited in line to enter the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland on May 15, but some people are addicted to the gambling that waits inside. They can voluntarily ban themselves from entering.

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Since opening May 14, the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland has ejected four gamblers who were so consumed by games of chances they had banned themselves from casinos in other states.

Three were from Pennsylvania. One was found out after she claimed a $1, 500 jackpot that the rules of her ban forced her to forfeit to charity.

Ohio is new to casino gambling, and the " run by the state Casino Control Commission is just beginning to attract attention.

As of Friday, six people had shut themselves out of the Horseshoe, the Hollywood Casino that opens Tuesday in Toledo and two more casinos scheduled to open in Columbus and Cincinnati by next year.

Caesars Entertainment, which manages the Cleveland casino, runs a similar program and works with the state. The company extends its ban to its properties outside Ohio - that's how the four Horseshoe patrons were caught.

The Ohio Lottery Commission has jurisdiction over video slot machines at horse tracks and will require the tracks to offer voluntary exclusion. Scioto Downs in Columbus is to open the state's first so-called racino on Friday.

The casino commission program, patterned after those in other states, lets gamblers register for one year, five years or life. The lifetime ban cannot be revoked; those who sign up for one or five years can ask to be removed from the list after the period expires.

The system is far from foolproof and still requires compulsive gamblers to exercise restraint. They are caught only if they are spotted, sign up for or use customer-loyalty cards or show the identification required to claim jackpots.

Ohio violators who are detected can be charged with trespassing, but the commission, which makes the call on prosecution, will weigh the circumstances of each case. Executive Director Matthew Schuler said the goal is to get people into treatment, not to play "gotcha."

The program recently got a boost when Justin Gale, a 52-year-old Mayfield Heights resident, disclosed that he was the first person to have his name placed on the confidential list. News stories featuring Gale and his lifetime ban have generated so many calls to the commission seeking information that those answering "can't keep up, " said Laura Clemens, coordinator of the agency's problem-gambling program.

Previous Plain Dealer coverage

"Each caller has a story that they want to share, which is great, " she said. "So they are lengthy calls."

Gale started betting on horse races at age 15, asking adults to wager for him at Thistledown and Northfield Park. He later began traveling out of state to play slot machines and table games at casinos.

The highs - the thrill of winning and escape from daily worries - were more than offset by money problems and fractured relationships, Gale said. He tried quitting 13 years ago to honor his father's dying wish, only to end up back at the track three days after his dad passed away.

He swore off the habit for good more than a year ago and avoids relapse by seeing Beachwood counselor Kim Goldhamer two times a week. He also attends three or four support-group meetings every week.

Gale is not bothered to see casinos come to Ohio - he likes that the money will remain in the state - but realizes he can't let his guard down for a moment. He went public with his self-imposed ban to serve as an example.

"The bottom line is I just want to help others not go through what I went through for 35 years, " Gale said.

To sign up for the casino commission's program, problem gamblers must go to the commission headquarters or the agency's office at a casino. The state will photograph and take personal information from the gamblers and circulate the material to the casinos.

The program does not forbid participants to work at casinos, even if the jobs directly involve gaming. But they have to leave the premises immediately after their shifts end, Clemens said.

Pennsylvania has offered voluntary exclusion since the state's first casino opened in 2006, and its list now contains 3, 772 names. Sign-ups have increased annually and are on course to surpass 1, 500 this year, according to

The largest bloc of gamblers on the list - 1, 066 - are 45 to 54 years old. More than half registered for a year, 20 percent enrolled for five years and 25 percent banned themselves for life.

Missouri's list, which dates to 1996, stood at 16, 500 until March, when a five-year option was added to what had been a lifetime-only ban.

Since then, nearly 2, 400 people who had been in the program for at least five years have dropped out, said LeAnn McCarthy, spokeswoman for the Missouri Gaming Commission, a regulatory agency. With additions, the total stood at 14, 468 this week.



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