Will legal sports betting increase problem gambling in New Jersey?

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Sports betting is now legal in New Jersey and you can bet the Council on Compulsive Gambling has some big concerns. The executive director Neva Pryor spoke with Correspondent Michael Hill.

Hill: Neva, thank you for joining us.

Pryor: Thank you for having me.

Hill: You’re welcome. What are your big concerns?

Pryor: My big concerns are that now people will be able to have availability to gamble. As I said before, we’re neither for nor against gambling. We just want to make sure that people know where to go for help if they do develop a problem. What we’re going to see now is people who never gambled before, now they get caught up at the Superbowl game, or they get caught up when they go to the casino or to the racetrack to gamble. And so, they are going to want to maybe throw $5 on it so that they can have skin in the game. So if they have an addictive personality, that might lead to a problem for them, especially once you throw alcohol on top of it because it lowers their inhibitions.

Hill: What should family, what should friends look for in terms of someone getting into trouble in terms of, OK this is not just a one-time bet, two-time, three-time bet, but this is somebody who’s really into this, somebody who’s addicted, as you said.

Pryor: Well, you’ll see the person being preoccupied. With internet gaming, we see them on their phone a lot or on the computer a lot. We see very similar things to substance use disorder, where the person will be gone for long periods of time. With the gambler, it’s the money. Large amounts of money will be gone. We’ve seen where people have gambled away their pensions, absent from work. They become irritable. People think because it’s not a substance, there’s no physical signs, but there are physical signs. The person will be become anxious. The person might be a little angry if one tries to stop them. So, it’s very, very similar to substance use disorder. And what we tell people is to see what is going on, and if they have a problem, call 1-800-GAMBLER so we can give them the support treatment and help that they need.

Hill: Neva, when will the council know that, OK, here we have now sports betting in New Jersey is legal. What will you look for in terms of whether New Jersey is not weathering this as well as people want New Jerseyans to do?

Pryor: Well, as quiet as it’s kept, and I’ve been talking about it recently, 10 percent of our calls over the last quarter were for sports betting and it wasn’t even legal. So really until it’s analyzed, there are a lot of researchers who will be interested in the data. So, it won’t probably be noticed until we get that data. We ourselves will look at the 1-800-GAMBLER calls and see how many calls are coming in with sports betting as an issue. So with that, then we will be able to determine how much it’s causing the people in New Jersey problems. But, one thing to notice is that our gambling rate of problem gamblers is 6.3 percent. That’s twice the national average because we have so much availability. Now, you’re going to have another availability with the sports betting, so we are concerned about that.

Hill: Neva, walk me through someone who has a gambling issue or a loved one calls 1-800-GAMBLER, what happens?

Pryor: Well, one of my staff, during the week we take the calls in the office, so we’ll answer the call. We want to find out what kind of gambling are they doing. Why did you call us today? Do you feel that you have a problem? Because if you feel that you have a problem, then you’re really ready to take that next step. So what we offer them are GA meetings, Gamblers Anonymous meetings. To the loved ones, we’ll offer Gam-Anon, very similar to Al-Anon. Then, what we’ll do is if they need treatment, we have treatment providers that either will be able to counsel them at no cost or low-cost. We’ll find out if there’s other issues that maybe we need to refer them, and we always check for suicidality because one out of five gamblers will try to commit suicide in their lifetime.

Hill: Are the resources being devoted to anti-gambling or anti-addiction in this realm that you need to do the job that you need to do to really help people?

Pryor: Well, like I said before we’re neither for nor against. We just want to make sure that our name is there. That the 1-800-GAMBLER number is there if a person has a problem. And, you’ll see that on the back of lottery tickets, you’ll see it at the casino, places like that. That’s what we need. We need the money to have billboards, TV ads, website optimization, we need money for those things. Not for us to get rich, because trust me we aren’t going to, but just so that I can make sure that there’s money there for public awareness and I can keep my staff on board.

Hill: How many members do you have on your staff?

Pryor: There’s nine of us and most of us are in the field during the day and then I have a small staff inside.