National Council on Problem Gambling’s New Approach Toward Addiction

Kinder and gentler.

The end of Problem Gambling Awareness Month spotlights the National Council on Problem Gambling’s new approach toward addiction.

PGAM No. 21 concludes, in essence, with a more nurturing hand.

The organization’s education efforts have morphed from tough love into a subtle finesse-the-stress strategy. A softer tone — comprised of helplines, website checklists, and the encouragement to speak publicly — meets new-age reality.

Technological tools, grassroots education campaigns, and an enlightened big-picture vantage point mark the nation’s oldest outfit studying gambling issues. Founded in 1972, it is gaming-neutral and seeks to assist, rather than restrict, nationwide gamblers.

“We have learned over the years that problem gamblers don’t need to feel shamed or stigmatized,” Keith Whyte, the executive director of the NCPG, told Gaming Today.

“Our messaging in past years wasn’t as positive and affirming as it is now. We have tried to continually be sure that we strike an optimistic tone and that we are helpful.

“We don’t want to talk about debt, depression, or even suicide. That’s not very welcoming for people who do have a problem. We want to connect them with resources. We want to emphasize that treatment works, that recovery is hard but it is possible. There is hope. There is help available.”

Help with a capital H. Here are three areas that reflect this view.

Area No. 1: Prevention Before a Problem

Context: Most people will never have a gambling problem. Severe issues may impact 1% of patrons, while those flirting with difficulty might comprise another 24%, Whyte has said in past interviews.

What is significant for this group is the abundance of recently emerging resources.

It’s a playbook.

There are substantial new tools launched by professional sports leagues, sportsbook operators, and gaming regulators.

The website information is effective and can be gleaned in private. Besides offering an overall approach to prudent behavior, it provides valued options like self-exclusion and the placement of daily, weekly, or monthly limits.

Gamblers can also relate to familiar spokesmen, like one-time Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner. His responsible betting commercial notes that 44% of NFL outcomes change in the fourth quarter and 25% of the contests are decided by three points or less.

Unpredictable results therefore demand setting limits, not chasing and gambling only what one can afford to lose, he says. The message is simple, effective, and positive, augmented by a suggestion to visit That’s a site connected with the NCPG.

Realistic commercials like Warner’s balance those trumpeting the glory of gaming.

The NFL contributes $2 million a year to the National Council on Problem Gambling, the most significant buy-in by any sports league to this concept.

By sprinkling real sports analogies into commercials, the league helps patrons choose a responsible gaming path.

Area No. 2: Prevention at the Outset of a Potential Problem

Whyte says 325,000 people called the organization’s 1-800-GAMBLER hotline last year. A consensus emerged from their conversations with counselors.

“About 30% of them just wanted information about how to get help for someone else,” Whyte said. “When they call, they are given resource information from the state they are calling from.

“What’s interesting about these calls is how much people simply want to improve their knowledge of this topic.”

The number of calls will grow as more states legalize gambling and as more commercials air.

Area No. 3: Prevention Based on First-Person Revelations

The NCPG theme this month was “Every Story Matters.”

A riveting tale involves Sam DeMello from the Bay Area of California. His story is shared on the site, covering a rocky journey from a hooked gambler to an innovator developing a digital health tool called Evive. This is similar in concept to apps for dieting and exercise, opioid addiction, and alcohol consumption.

Sam discusses what led him there and how he abused the newfound thrill of having a casino in his pocket 24 hours a day. That access took him beyond sports gambling to unfamiliar areas like blackjack and slot machines.

He believed that gambling on the phone with cryptocurrency on the job would not catch up with him. Or that being college-educated and white-collar might shield him from falling into a hole.

But he did fall, sustaining heavy financial and personal relationship losses.

Sam was lucky to find a therapist, along with a wonderful woman to whom he entrusted financial control. He also implemented blocking software on his phone and entered self-exclusion.

Somehow, he made it back.

But it wasn’t easy.

What resonates in the story is its authenticity: real people, real problems, and real strategies.

10 years ago, Sam might have unloaded that story on a psychiatrist. Now it’s shared openly, splashed across a national website.

It is likely that, somewhere, a person with budding problems will see this story and reverse course.

Area of Prevention Going Forward

There will always be another mountain to climb.

Whyte is happy about the involvement of sports leagues, operators, and regulatory agencies in this area. The next target: the medical profession.

“There are doctors who are fascinated by what our organization does,” he said. “I would love them to extend that as it relates to patients.

“Every year during a physical I am asked about whether I have been drinking or smoking. But the form still doesn’t ask me if I gamble.

“I would like to see that become part of this process. This is how the attention on alcohol and smoking got started in the first place.”

Odds are, this will become part of the doctor-patient relationship going forward.

Unlike March Madness, Problem Gambling Awareness Month won’t deliver an annual team champion. But it may produce a perpetual Final Four concept to smart gambling:

  • Stay on budget
  • Step back after a loss
  • Don’t gamble to fill a personal void
  • Reach out for help

Everyone can add a few pointers of their own.

I always mention one from several decades of enriched, conservative gambling experience: Keep it fun and keep it going.


About the Author
Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo

Dave Bontempo is an award-winning writer and broadcaster, who has covered the sports industry since the 1970s. He won the Sam Taub Award for Excellence in Boxing Broadcasting by the Boxing Writers Association of America in 1997, and is in the New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame. Bontempo has broadcast major fights all over the world. The advent of legalized sports wagering shifted his focus to this exciting new industry in 2018.

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