According to the Ohio Casino Control Commission, there were more calls to the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline in the first 10 days of January than there were in the entire month of January of last year.
The increase in calls to the helpline — 800-589-9966 — was expected by state regulators and problem gambling specialists in the lead-up to the statewide legalization of sports betting, which launched in Ohio on Jan. 1. In reality, many of the callers were looking for various types of assistance making bets, thinking the helpline could … help.
Whatever the case, Ohio residents are exposed to the phone number much more in their daily lives now because of the publicity surrounding sports betting.
Derek Longmeier, executive director of Problem Gambling Network of Ohio, says his organization — which is the Ohio affiliate of the National Council on Problem Gambling — works closely with NCPG affiliates in other states. Longmeier says they expected to see the number of helpline calls rise based on their communications with other states’ affiliates.
“In the three months leading up to sports betting we saw increasing call volume,” Longmeier says. “Based on our partners in other states we expect significant increases in call volume.”
“New York (whose market is close to Ohio’s), Michigan (most geographically close) and Connecticut (who launched recently) all saw significant increases,” Longmeier adds.
Majority of helpline callers seek resources and treatment
In January of 2022, the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline, which is staffed and operated via the United Way of Greater Cleveland’s 211 program, received a total of 456 calls.
If the helpline received more than that amount in just the first 10 days of January of 2023 and that trend continued, that would put the helpline on track to receive more than 1,370 calls for the entire month of January.
From September 2021 to September 2022, the Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline averaged 506 calls each month.
Jessica Franks, director of communications for the Ohio Casino Control Commission, says the OCCC will likely have more precise numbers on January calls in time for its February monthly meeting.
Franks says at least some of the increase in call volume is due to users calling with technical questions about their sports betting apps or their accounts with the various sportsbooks, something with which the helpline cannot assist.
But most of the calls, Franks says, were people actively seeking help via resources (such as info on Gamblers Anonymous meeting locations) or treatment.
“While there are some calls to the helpline that involved patrons with complaints or issues with their accounts,” Franks says, “the majority have been individuals looking for information on resources or to connect directly with a trained counselor using our warm transfer program.”
The warm transfer program was introduced in Ohio in 2020. When callers reach out to Ohio Problem Gambling Helpline, the warm transfer process allows operators to connect them to a trained counselor regardless of when they call.
Previously, if someone called outside of normal business hours they would usually be unable to speak directly to a trained specialist.
Increase in helpline call volume likely to continue
The Problem Gambling Network of Ohio’s Longmeier agrees that the spike in calls to the helpline is partially due to callers mistakenly calling due to problems with their sportsbook accounts or apps.
But, he says, even those misdirected calls offer an opportunity to share information about Ohio’s responsible gambling and problem gambling resources.
“We expect call volume is likely result of both (those seeking help and those looking for technical assistance),” Longmeier says.
“We look at the calls as two types — ‘help seeking’ and ‘opportunity.’ ‘Help seeking’ calls are those individuals or loved ones who call in need of resources and ‘opportunity’ calls are those who call the helpline for reasons other than help, but is an opportunity to talk about the services.”
Based on what is known about sports betting behaviors, the number of people reaching out for problem gambling assistance will continue as 2023 moves on, Longmeier says.
“From our statewide survey we know that sports betting is the form of gambling with the highest risk,” he says. “It also appears (anecdotally) that sports betters develop problems and subsequently seek resources more quickly than other forms of gambling.”
Ohio responsible gambling resources are plentiful
Ohio offers numerous resources for those seeking help with problem gambling, as well as those looking for tips on how to gamble responsibly. Ohio plans to use 2% of its sports betting tax revenue for the state’s problem sports gaming fund.
The Ohio for Responsible Gambling organization is the result of a collaborative effort between the OCCC, the Ohio Lottery Commission, the Ohio State Racing Commission and the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
The ORG website features tips and links to numerous resources, as well as information about Ohio’s various responsible gambling initiatives, including the Get Set Before You Bet and Pause Before You Play campaigns and the recently updated Voluntary Exclusion Program.