Gambling Problem Hotlines Aren’t Online Casino Tech Support

Gambling problem hotlines are short on staff and money. So when online horse racing bettors dialed 1-800-GAMBLER recently with customer service complaints rather than gambling addiction issues, it would’ve been logical for call-takers to be irritated.

Instead, operators were glad to hear from TVG Network gamblers who’d mistakenly phoned the hotline, says Keith S. Whyte, the executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG).

He explains that bettors saw 1-800-GAMBLER listed as TVG’s customer service contact number on PissedConsumer.com. A TVG customer who’d given the Hillsboro, Ore.-based company a poor review directed similarly irked app users to resolve their tech and account issues via 1-800-GAMBLER, Whyte told Bonus.com on Thursday.

“And so then, we started getting calls on our helpline,” he recalls.

Bettor Confusion and 1-800-GAMBLER

Whyte says those calls from gamblers on the FanDuel Group-owned TVG app aren’t unique. Possibly 5% of the 275,000 annual calls are customer support requests.

For instance, lottery players ask about the winning numbers because they see 1-800-GAMBLER on the back of their tickets.

DraftKings bettors call with account complaints because they’re confused by a site layout that prominently displays 1-800-GAMBLER. “Which, of course, we appreciate,” Whyte says.

Still others with gambling problems are feeling the helpline out before they reveal their addictions, Whyte tells Bonus.com.

Perhaps that’s to be expected in a society where fewer than 1% of America’s 6 million problem gamblers seek counseling.

So even though most, if not all, of those TVG callers were voice calling, texting, or web-chatting with operators about customer service issues, there was still an outside chance they were calling for help, Whyte says.

He says hotline workers treat every call as a possible crisis, because mistaken and “asking for a friend” types of interactions can lead to real interventions.

Whyte says to Bonus.com:

We do think there is no wrong door to gambling addiction help.

Nevertheless, NCPG straightened out the situation with PissedConsumer.com. Now, the site that says it sees 4 million monthly visitors bears the correct TVG customer relations number: (888) 752-9884, rather than 1-800-GAMBLER.

Gambling Problem Hotlines See More Calls as States Legalize

Whyte says 30 different state gambling problem hotlines harmonize on 1-800-GAMBLER. The person seeking help gets it within the state where the call originates. That’s based on each phone’s area code, because federal privacy laws prohibit the helpline from using geolocation, he says.

So here’s an overview of what Bonus.com found about call volume increases during recent state iGaming legalizations:

  • Connecticut launched legal online casino and sports betting on Oct. 19, 2021. The Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling (CCPG) saw a 126% increase in calls on the problem gambling helpline afterward, Fox5NY reports on April 18, 2022.
  • Michigan’s full-service online gambling market debuted on Jan. 22, 2021. Calls to the state’s hotline nearly tripled to more than 4,400 calls in 2021 vs. 2020, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).
  • New York’s online sportsbooks launched on Jan. 8, 2022. During that first month, the New York State HopeLine received 91 more problem gambling support calls than it did in January 2021, the Buffalo News reports. That brought the January 2022 total to 289.

Cait DeBaun, vice president of strategic communications and responsibility at the American Gaming Association (AGA), tells Bonus.com on Wednesday that that’s no shock. That’s because the members of AGA, a US casino industry trade group, are stepping up their efforts to raise awareness about gambling problem hotlines.

DeBaun says to Bonus.com:

The increase in calls is not surprising given the industry’s widespread promotion of problem gambling helplines through both brand marketing and responsible gaming initiatives. Operator websites, apps, and other resources clearly delineate between customer service and problem gambling resources, like the helpline. Despite the confusion, we would rather prioritize broad awareness of the helpline than limit it … due to concerns of misdials or non-calls.

Further, call volume is not necessarily a direct correlation to increases in risky or problem gambling. While there’s limited public data on call reasons, the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling reported 5,602 calls in 2021, with the majority of these calls being non-intake contacts (e.g., customer service, prank calls, misdials). This is similar to what Michigan experienced last year.

Rising Problem Gambling Resource Awareness

As great as it is that online gambling operators are providing problem gambling resource information to bettors, it can be confusing for app users to figure out what’s related to the app and what’s not. Hence, the customer service calls to 1-800-GAMBLER, Whyte says to Bonus.com.

So during Q3 and Q4 2022, NCPG will be rolling out a national brand awareness campaign for 1-800-GAMBLER, he said.

The marketing campaign will bring a public service announcement to consumers via digital, television, and radio channels, Whyte said.

Industry ads about responsible gambling are increasing, too.

DeBaun tells Bonus.com:

As part of our commitment to responsibility, the gaming industry has made significant investments in promoting helpline resources, funding helplines through taxes, and partnering with NCPG and state affiliates to support their work. Importantly, these resources have never been more well-funded.

There shouldn’t be obstacles to help for those who need it. With the growth of the legal market, AGA members have led efforts to harmonize helpline services and streamline regulations on helpline promotion to improve customer access and better highlight problem gambling resources.

The Future of Gambling Education

Most current resources are aimed at creating awareness among adults about gambling problem hotlines and other resources.

While Whyte is among many who believe those efforts should continue and expand, he advocates prevention efforts that reach into schools.

New York Sen. Joseph Addabbo, D-Howard Beach, echoes that sentiment. In a Wednesday interview with Bonus.com, the lawmaker who is working on creating a state Problem Gambling Advisory Council (PGAC) also advocates high school gambling awareness education. After all, financial literacy is part of the curriculum, he says.

Along those lines, Whyte says Illinois and Virginia lawmakers approved requiring gambling education be added to the statewide curriculum.

Whyte tells Bonus.com:

Just like we made progress against substance abuse by doing prevention and education early on, prior to onset of use, we believe gambling actually falls in that same space and uses the same tactics and techniques.

It’s not teaching kids how to gamble. It’s often misconstrued as that. …

But it is truly prevention. It’s talking about what the minimum age is. It’s talking about harmful consequences.

And as you get older, it’s starting to talk about ‘if you do something, responsible use.’

So theoretically, the reason why we’re such big believers in it is if you interview people with gambling problems who are in treatment – in other words, people who have pretty severe problems – and you ask them at what age they started gambling for money, in North America, the average for men is 10 to 12 years old. So if we’re not reaching them with a prevention message before that, then we’re already a little bit too late.

And it’s similar to smoking, in that the earlier you start gambling for money, the more likely … you are to have a problem, and the more likely that problem is to be a severe problem.

So age of onset – just like with drugs, just like with alcohol, just like with tobacco – is associated both with increase in problems and increase in severity of problems.

In the meantime, children are allowed to call 1-800-GAMBLER, Whyte says.

Usually when they call, they’re asking for help for their parents. They’re not the ones calling gambling problem hotlines to complain about their online casino accounts.

About the Author

Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher is the lead writer at Bonus, concentrating on online casino coverage. She had her first published byline at age 10, but didn't get paid for her writing until she got her first newspaper job. Fletcher's newspaper career started at Suburban News Publications in Ohio and eventually took her to The New York Times, where she's still a contract freelance reporter for the National Desk. She covers breaking news from Philadelphia, as needed. In March 2021, Fletcher began writing about online casino gambling as the lead writer for Online Poker Report.

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