Compulsive Gambling Hotline Expecting Typical Super Bowl Traffic In Legal Sports Betting Era

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Ask someone who doesn’t gamble if a compulsive gambling hotline likely would need to beef up staffing in New Jersey on Super Bowl Sunday in this first “Big Game” since the state legalized sports betting last June, and that person probably would answer, “Of course!”

But those who understand the issue know better.

Neeva Pryor, the executive director for the Council on Compulsive Gambling in New Jersey, said their “800-GAMBLER” call-in line will not have a surge in staffing on Sunday.

Why not? Because, Pryor points out, something like 95% of the $6 billion to be wagered on the game likely will be done illegally. Those numbers haven’t changed significantly since the Supreme Court reversed PASPA.

“We expect to see the number of calls grow a bit, but we can’t really predict it,” Pryor told NJ Online Gambling.

A benefit to legalization

Pryor said that call volume is up about 20% since New Jersey approved legal sports betting. And one of the reasons is actually encouraging.

“There were some who were hesitant to call before because they didn’t want to admit to participating in an illegal activity,” said Pryor.

That means that for some, a key barrier blocking potential recovery has been erased.

But is that benefit worth the tradeoff for a possible increase in compulsive gamblers over time? Of course, the Council didn’t get to choose this tradeoff — and the Council doesn’t lobby for or against new legal gambling options anyway.

Still, Pryor said her organization looks warily at some of those new options, including live “in-game” betting.

“Someone can be at a Super Bowl party and they hear about people betting so they want to get some skin in the game, too,” Pryor said. “And if they already had a proclivity toward compulsive gambling, that could be the trigger.”

Pryor said that can be particularly true if such a person wins the first bet or two, making the activity feel even more alluring.

The ease of online

New Jersey is one of the few states that offers a full array of legal online casino options.

“The more opportunities to gamble there are — as it is if a new drug is introduced — the more chance there is of problems occurring,” Pryor said. “There are so many options on the internet these days. I have no interest in gambling, but I could be doing it on my phone right now.

“And now there is more advertising of these options — although with that also comes a greater awareness of our hotline, at least.”

Pryor and her staff unfortunately have a busy workload. A Rutgers study released in 2017 concluded that about 6% of New Jerseyans have issues with compulsive gambling, nearly four times the national average.

Perhaps the biggest misconception about compulsive gambling, Pryor said, is that it is not as dire a crisis as other addictions such as alcoholism or drug addiction. Suicide rates, she said, sadly demonstrate how misguided that belief is.

Pryor stressed that calls to 800-GAMBLER are confidential, with email also an option. For some, self-exclusion at casinos or online gaming sites is also an avenue worth exploring.

Photo by Shutterstock.com

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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