Ohio Problem Gambling Official Supports Unifying Helplines Into 800-GAMBLER

Written By Steve Friess on May 5, 2022 - Last Updated on March 10, 2023
Ohio problem gambling group supports national hotline consolidation

The National Council on Problem Gambling is moving closer to consolidating the patchwork of state-level responsible gambling helplines into one problem gambling helpline number. The executive director of the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio says he favors such an approach assuming some technological issues can be smoothed out.

Ohio is one of 27 that have their own phone numbers answered by operators at call centers in the state. Ohio’s number is 1-800-589-9966.

Derek Longmeier, who oversees the Problem Gambling Network of Ohio, agrees with the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), the National Football League and the American Gaming Association that one unified, easy-to-remember number used across platforms and state lines would be a big improvement.

“Just broadly, having one unified number would make a lot of sense,” Longmeier tells PlayOhio.

“800-GAMBLER is easily recognizable and something we can really get behind from PGNO’S perspective as well as our Ohio regulators,”

With the state on the brink of launching legal sports betting by Jan. 1, 2023, he says the casino industry has also been putting pressure on the Ohio Casino Control Commission “to identify one number to use for marketing that would be consistent with a national number.”

Ohio could lease 800-GAMBLER problem gambling helpline

NCPG executive director Keith Whyte told PlayUSA this week that his organization is in final negotiations with the Council on Problem Gambling in New Jersey (CPGNJ) to lease its helpline number, 800-GAMBLER, for potential use as a national hotline.

“It’s easier to remember, it’s more memorable,” he says.

Whyte expects a deal to be complete this month. CPGNJ Executive Director Felicia Grundin did not respond to multiple requests for comment this week.

Longmeier does have concerns. Both 800-GAMBLER and the NCPG’s existing national number, 800-522-4000, already reroute calls from Ohio area codes to Ohio’s in-state call center. The Ohio call center is best equipped to identify local resources to help someone with responsible gambling concerns.

But some people in Ohio have area codes from other states. This is common in an era of mobile phones and constant domestic migration. Out-of-state calls are routed either to a call center in the state of their area code or to a national call center in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Calling Ohio’s specific number, though, gets the help-seeker to the Ohio call center regardless of what the caller’s area code suggests about their location. Longmeier wants some clarity that local callers seeking local help would still get it.

“That’s the biggest challenge. If we can work past that, then having one unified national number that’s easily recognizable is a no-brainer.”

Whyte says NCPG is working on that. The ideal scenario would be for states to keep their call centers and have calls routed to them based on the caller’s geolocation.

Currently, the only emergency number in the U.S. allowed to geolocate calls in that way is 911, per federal law. Whyte says the new national helpline may require a phone menu where callers can indicate what state they are in. They would then be forwarded to the appropriate call center.

NFL and American Gaming Association support consolidated number

Several entities are eager to see a consolidated national number, including the National Football League and the American Gaming Association. Whyte says the NCPG is using about $2 million of a $6 million grant from the NFL to modernize and update the entire gambler helpline industry.

That includes unifying behind a single helpline number for advertising that appears on national NFL broadcasts. Additional goals include “raising standards, improving training and certification and better collection data,” Whyte says.

Many states, including Ohio, have had their helplines and call centers in place for decades, since they first launched lotteries. In Ohio, as in most places, the local helpline number is printed on every lottery ticket. The state’s new sports betting legislation also requires advertising and other materials offer “a statewide helpline number, but it does not have to specifically be the 800-589-9966 number,” he says.

Longmeier says they wouldn’t shut down the local number, but using 1-800-GAMBLER “would allow for a lot better marketing and messaging.” The start of legal sports betting would draw advertising intended to air in several states at once where it is legal.

“What we don’t want to see is the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline in such a minuscule font that you wouldn’t be able to read it,” he says.

That’s currently what happens when online sportsbooks advertise nationally. This is one of the big problems the NCPG is trying to solve.

“If you’re acting in the best answers to problem gamblers, you can’t just think about what’s in your state anymore,” Whyte says.

“You have to think more broadly. Gambling in general, and sports betting in particular, is now a national issue.”

Photo by AP: Jessica Hill
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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is the national gambling industry correspondent for PlayOhio. He is also a contributing writer for Newsweek. A Long Island native who earned a journalism degree at Northwestern University, Friess worked at newspapers in Rockford, Ill., Las Vegas, and South Florida before launching a freelance career in Beijing, China, where he served as chief China correspondent for USA Today. After his return to the U.S. in 2003, he settled in Las Vegas, where he covered the gambling industry and the American Southwest regularly for The New York Times, Playboy, The New Republic, Time, Portfolio, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, New York magazine, and many others. During that time, he created and co-hosted two successful and groundbreaking podcasts, the celebrity-interview show The Strip and the animal affairs program The Petcast. In 2011-12, Friess was a Knight-Wallace Fellow for at the University of Michigan. That was followed by a stint as a senior writer covering the intersection of technology and politics at Politico in Washington, D.C., In 2013, he returned permanently to Ann Arbor, where he now lives with his husband, son, daughter and three Pomeranians. He tweets at @SteveFriess and can be reached at [email protected].

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