On-line gambling is an issue throughout the pandemic

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Lottery sales in New Hampshire, especially online games, are rising during the pandemic, and with that surge, so too is another statistic – the number of problem gamblers seeking help with a disorder that can destroy lives.

The National Council on Problem Gambling received 443 calls to its 24-hour hotline (800-522-4700) from New Hampshire last year, compared to 337 in 2019, a 24% increase.

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said there were legitimate concerns that the pandemic is exacerbating the problem of compulsive gambling. The problem is so severe that the organization released a statement on the problem of gambling during the pandemic.

"Social isolation, job loss, stress, depression – all of these are known risk factors for gambling problems," Whyte said.

Overall gambling has also increased. In the current fiscal year, which began last July, New Hampshire internet lottery sales grew 167.5% year-over-year while total sales increased 27%, said Maura McCann, lottery's director of marketing.

In addition to more people playing from home during the pandemic, there are more games available on the lottery’s online platform, and the recent big jackpots have likely contributed to increased sales as well.

"A very small percentage of gamblers – casino, lottery, horse / dog racing, and more – have an issue with gambling," said McCann.

Nationally it is estimated that around 1% of adults are problem gamblers.

Ed Talbot, the executive director of the New Hampshire Council for Problem Gambling, estimates that there are around 8,000 compulsive gamblers in New Hampshire. Since the pandemic, he's seen more people asking for help: the number of calls to the New Hampshire Council-operated hotline rose 25% in 2020 to a total of 50 people. In January alone, seven people called the hotline. He estimates that for every problem gambler who calls, the helpline receives two calls from friends and family of the problem gamers.

"There are more people playing," said Talbot. "And there is more awareness of our hotline."

Online betting, loan utilization and advertising attract players

Fifty-four years ago New Hampshire became the first state to set up a lottery. Now it is groundbreaking for online games: In 2019, the New Hampshire Lottery started with online sports betting, after the sale of online lottery tickets became possible in 2018.

The New Hampshire Lottery also allows people to use credit cards to gamble, which many other states don't allow, to prevent gamblers from accumulating unmanageable debt. Talbot said credit can get people in trouble.

"Funds are easier to access," said Talbot, a former problem player. "Me as a racetrack bettor, if you had no money you couldn't bet. In casinos you can just swipe a card and it's the same online. You can maximally. It's almost like you're not spending any real money."

It may seem like the chance of winning a multi-million dollar jackpot is just a credit card transaction away, and it's fun to think about spending the money, but the actual odds of winning a Powerball grand prize are around one in 300 million. You are much more likely to be struck by lightning.

Those who register online to take part in the New Hampshire Lottery are presented with two boxes. You have to check that the player is at least 18 years old. The other, who has already been verified, says, "Yes, send me updates on free games, cash bonuses, and other exclusive offers."

Unless the registrant unsubscribes, emails will be sent to them incentivizing them to add funds to their gambling account: “Exciting news … today iLottery Dollar Deal $ lets you choose how many dollars you want! Get $ 5 iLottery Dollars when you deposit $ 30 or more. "

Whyte said aggressive marketing can be a problem.

"People with gambling problems are more susceptible to advertising and marketing," he said. “If you have a gambling problem or are at risk it can increase the urge to gamble. It can relapse as you recover from playing conditions and generally prompts you to play more. "

Support for problem gamers

The 2019 legislation also created the Responsible Gambling Council to promote the education, prevention and treatment of problem gambling. The council is funded with up to $ 250,000 per fiscal year as lottery commission administrative expenses. The council has spent little so far, however, said McCann, who is not only the lottery marketing director but also chairman of the council.

"The council, made up of volunteers, meets quarterly. These funds have not been used between the establishment of the new council and the outbreak of the pandemic," she said. "This year funding has been set at $ 100,000 and a call for proposals to build services is publicly available."

The aim is to build capacities for clinical, prevention and intervention services in connection with games of chance.

In the meantime there is support like the Talbot hotline and the national hotline for people who find they are gambling too much.

Talbot warns friends and family of these players not to enable the behavior.

"I have two suggestions," he said. “First, they have to do whatever they can to support the decision not to play. Don't give them money or a license to come back to. And try to get the person to call me. "

A big step for the compulsive gambler is acknowledging the problem.

Symptoms of a problem can include engaging in gambling, wagering with increasing amounts of money, feeling like they're being kept secret or lying, and making friends and family worry about the activity.

Many deny, thinking that they are only suffering from an economic problem that can be undone with a winning bet. Talbot advises people on the dangers of "hunting" or trying to win back lost money through more gambling. Compulsive gamblers can go to extremes and even break the law to get more wagering money.

"It's rare that a person doesn't seek recovery without a nudge or a nudge," said Talbot.

Perfect sweetheart

Talbot, 78, placed his last bet on November 30, 1977 on a dog track in Taunton, Mass.

He had amassed a mountain of gambling debts, but the remaining money, about $ 20, was collected and bet on a greyhound named Perfect Treasure. The dog stumbled at the start and never had a chance.

A win could have persuaded Talbot to keep playing. Friends and family told him he had a problem and that he had tried to stop without success. Now he had reached a new low. He even considered ending his life before turning to a local priest and setting out on his path to recovery.

He went to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting.

"I saw several men I knew from school, sports, and the racetrack, and they led me through the first few weeks of recovery with their phone calls, coffee visits, meetings, meetings, and other meetings," he said.

For Talbot, the real bet was finding help. He has had a successful career in correction management and has enjoyed a life that includes loving family and caring friends. It took him eight years to pay off his debt.

"I'm often asked how I do it and it starts with asking for help," he said. “I could never stop alone; Willpower wouldn't work. What works for me is a four-step approach: the 12-step fellowship, the professional help, a close relationship with my higher power that I call God, and a change in lifestyle have brought me to a serenity that I cannot achieve could imagine. "

This lifestyle change included proper eating and exercise, including marathons.

Help to get help

If you or a loved one is having problems with gambling, these organizations may be able to help:

National Council on Problem Gambling: ncpgambling.org; 1-800-522-4700

New Hampshire Council for Problem Gambling: nhproblemgambling.org; 603-724-1605

Gamblers Anonymous: gamblersanonymous.org.

These articles are shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information, see Collaborativesh.org.