Vice Squad
Monday, February 04, 2008

Just a few days ago I called for the US military to set up a self-exclusion system for the slot machines that it operates on some of its foreign bases. (No word back yet -- apparently they have higher priorities.) But this whole self-exclusion thing is really catching on. Check out the fine article (available from this page after free registration) in the current Milken Institute Review. The author notes -- oh, wait, I am the author. I note that self-exclusion systems typically combine two features, physical unavailability and reward diminution. In the case of casinos, the physical unavailability is supposed to come about when the casino bouncers prevent you from entering their fine establishment, or even have you charged with trespassing (as happens in some jurisdictions) when you try to evade your voluntarily chosen personal ban. Reward diminution occurs when you find, once you have managed to slip past security, that you will not be allowed to collect large jackpots. I don't think that self-exclusion systems currently work all that well in US casinos -- the system is better in the Netherlands -- but I think the general notion of self-exclusion holds significant potential. In particular, I think that when the currently illegal drugs are legalized, some sort of self-exclusion system -- perhaps licenses for drug users, and a chosen purchase limit -- will (and generally should) be part of the mix.

The Milken Institute Review article starts off with a delightful anecdote (by golly, it is delightful) about famed poet and opium addict Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who tried (unsuccessfully) to set up his own self-exclusion system by hiring goons to bar his entrance into pharmacies. (At the time in the UK, opium was legally available without a prescription.) When Coleridge really wanted opium, however, he would fire his agents on the spot, leaving them befuddled as to whether to obey the previous or the current Coleridge.

It is embarrassing when you make an error on the second page of a long publication. How about the second word? Somehow in the relating of this delightful anecdote, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was rendered, in large font, as Samuel Tyler Coleridge. Sigh. [Update: the wonderful folks at the Milken Institute Review corrected the typo, without bidding!]

Vice Squad has spoken about self-exclusion occasionally in the past, and hopes to speak more in the future -- assuming physical inaccessibility and reward diminution do not kick in.

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