Florida Council on Problem Gambling executive director Jennifer Kruse lambasted an effort by the national organization to consolidate state-level hotlines.
Instead of dozens of different numbers nationwide, the National Council on Problem Gambling wants one easy-to-remember number for advertising purposes.
Kruse believes that a unified number could make it harder for callers to get local help in a timely manner. “The main issue that I see is that people could potentially lose their lives with this system,” she told PlayFL.
NJ gambling addiction group seeking deal over hotline
As PlayUSA reported last week, NCPG Executive Director Keith Whyte expects to strike a deal this month with the Council on Problem Gambling of New Jersey. The agreement would allow the two groups to share 800-GAMBLER, which is the Garden State’s helpline number.
The goal would be to use 800-GAMBLER in national and regional casino advertising. Because the number is memorable, it would cut through the current clutter of ads featuring multiple helplines in small print.
According to Whyte, the NCPG’s system would bounce calls to the correct state. The entities eager for this change include the American Gaming Association and the National Football League.
It’s unclear what the New Jersey group is seeking in the negotiations, but Whyte says the talks are ongoing. CPGNJ Executive Director Felicia Grundin did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Florida Council on Problem Gambling says problems still remain
Yet Kruse says the NCPG has not solved the key technological problem – that callers get sorted based on their area codes even though millions of Americans live in different states than their phone numbers originate. Both 800-GAMBLER and the NCPG’s national hotline, 800-522-4700, currently route calls based on the caller’s area code.
The area code dictates whether the call is sent to a state-level or a national call center. The call is sent to the national center in Shreveport, Louisiana, if the area code is associated with a state that does not have a call center of its own.
Under federal law, 911 is the only emergency number allowed to geolocate incoming calls. As a result, callers with area codes that don’t correspond to the state they’re in get directed to the wrong hotline.
For example, the New York State helpline receives all calls from a New York area code. It doesn’t matter if they are calling from out of state. Furthermore, the New York operator won’t have the information to provide about services and resources in the caller’s state.
The caller will get little help. Instead, the operator will instruct them to dial a different number to get the state-specific or national hotline, Kruse says.
“Suicidal ideation and attempts are very high amongst problem gamblers. And when you take somebody who’s in crisis and they dial a number that they see advertised and they’re told, ‘oh, you have the wrong number, you’ve got to call a different number,’ or, ‘here’s a website address,’ you run the risk of them not dialing that second number,” said Kruse. “They’re taking a huge first step. And if their first contact is somebody telling them, ‘oh, you got the wrong number,’ I guarantee you, they many times don’t ever call again.”
Kruse wants to geo-locate and chill
Kruse’s solution is for states to keep and market their own numbers. For instance, she wants Florida to keep its 1-888-ADMIT-IT hotline. Anyone in Florida who calls that line will get the Florida call center, regardless of their area code.
She thinks that is a better solution because national advertisements don’t have to list dozens of helpline numbers. Additionally, the advertisements typically cram the numbers on the screen in tiny font. Kruse believes these ads should be customized to show the local helpline numbers based on where the ad appears.
“It is possible to geo-target your ads, it’s not difficult,” she says. “If we do a cable TV run, I can say, ‘I only want to hit Broward and Miami-Dade County,’ or, ‘I only want to hit Hillsborough County.’ Then, in states where there isn’t a state-specific number, advertise the national number because that’s where they’re going to go anyway. But diverting people away from a state-specific network is counterproductive to the mission of helping people because you’re actually routing them to the wrong spot.”
Whyte prefers making tweaks to a unified national hotline
Whyte says the national number could solve the geolocation problem by offering a phone menu. An automated system that beckons callers to choose the state they seek could solve these problems.
Kruse says she deserves credit for suggesting that idea at a meeting of leaders of NCGP and its affiliates. But she doubts Whyte understands what such a system demands.
“It couldn’t just be a telephone with an automated message because there’s so many issues that you can encounter,” Kruse said. “If there’s a power outage or internet outage, your phones go down. It would require them to actually staff a helpline and farm those calls out, which I don’t think the NCPG wants to do.”
Connecticut echoes the sentiment of Florida Council on Problem Gambling
Kruse isn’t the only one opposing the NCPG plan. The leaders at the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling worry as well. Until last year, some calls to the Connecticut helpline rolled over to out-of-state call centers depending on the hour of the day or if a local staffer was available to answer.
Those callers often received substandard assistance and guidance, CCPG communications manager Paul Tarbox told PlayFL. In response, the organization revamped its program. Under its new guidelines, the in-state staff handles all calls.
“People told us there were extremely long wait times, and in the test calls we did, we weren’t always receiving the responses we felt were best,” said Tarbox. “We decided if we bring it all in-house, we can control the training of people here. And, also, we know all the providers, so we can follow up with them more easily and just have a more of a positive experience getting people into treatment.”
Kruse echoes this concern as well. She noted that she also heard of problems with the skills of the people answering calls at the national center.
“Before they work to harmonize a national number, they need to be more focused on harmonizing the services that are available for callers at the national level,” said Kruse.