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Group Wants Help Lines in Gambling Ads

June 18, 1998|GREG JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the National Council on Problem Gambling opened its annual meeting Wednesday morning in Las Vegas, the agenda included a renewed push for responsible gaming policies at casinos and state lotteries.

Among the policies that the nonprofit council is pursuing: requiring casinos, racetracks and state lotteries to include toll-free gambling help-line phone numbers in their advertisements and signs at casinos, racetracks and lottery ticket sales locations.

"Responsible gaming policies are among the top five things that we're pursuing," said Paul R. Ashe, chairman and president of the Washington-based organization that has 33 chapters in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. "Responsible gaming policies are the right thing to do. But it's also a simple matter of casinos that don't do something will someday find themselves being held responsible for [legal] damages."

An estimated 5% of Americans who engage in gambling are compulsive gamblers who put themselves, their families and businesses at risk when they gamble, Ashe said. Another 10% can be classified as problem gamblers, he said.

A handful of states, including New Jersey, already require casinos to include toll-free help-line numbers in their ads. The council is pushing for a national policy that would also require casinos and other gambling venues to train employees to recognize compulsive gamblers.

In California, the affiliated California Council on Problem Gambling has been lobbying gambling operators to adopt similar policies. In recent months, several Indian casinos and card rooms have begun posting help-line numbers, according to Tom Tucker, president of the California group.

Thoroughbred racetracks recently agreed to begin posting signs that offer help for compulsive gamblers. And in April, the California State Lottery dedicated a toll-free number that offers help for consumers.

Although the number--(888) 277-3115--is advertised on lottery tickets, call volume has been minimal, according to lottery spokeswoman Norma Minas.

The state number connects callers with the lottery office--a practice that Tucker finds disconcerting: "It's like telling an alcoholic to call Anheuser-Busch for help with a drinking problem."

Many of the nation's largest casino chains now post toll-free numbers near their cashier booths and at cash machines, Ashe said. But most chains are not yet including help-line numbers in advertising. And just eight of the nation's state lotteries have toll-free numbers for troubled gamblers, he said.

He described the toll-free numbers and educational programs for casino workers as "common sense because it will help protect them from liability.

"Sooner or later, someone will win a lawsuit that will hold a casino liable for damages," Ashe said. "Casinos need to recognize the problem and provide some kind of a solution."

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