Gambling hotline gets spike in local callers

The Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling's helpline received a record number of calls in 2004, and most of the calls were from the Milwaukee region.

The Council's helpline, 1-800-GAMBLE-5, received 9,407 calls last year, according to Rose Gruber, executive director of the Green Bay-based organization. Five years ago it received about 4,700 calls.

Gruber said a $250,000 public awareness campaign entailing billboards, bus ads and even advertisements in casino bathrooms encourage callers to pick up their phones.

"People are finding out it's OK to make that call," Gruber said.

The economy also played a role in the increase, Gruber said.

Between 2001 and 2002, when the economy was mired in a post-Sept. 11 slump, the Council saw a 45 percent increase in calls because, Gruber believes, people turned to gambling as a source of income.

Similar economic conditions are once again inducing people to call the helpline, she said.

"A lot of people think gambling is a way to quick and easy money (and it's not)," Gruber said.

Of the more than 9,000 calls to the helpline, 30 percent, or 2,822 calls, came from the 414 and 262 area codes.

The 414 area code covers Milwaukee County and includes the city of Milwaukee and some of its suburbs, including Cudahy, Oak Creek and Hales Corners.

The 262 area code encompasses six outlying counties and serves parts of Muskego, New Berlin and Menomonee Falls.

Gruber said the 414 and 262 area codes are the top call areas each year, but she isn't sure exactly why.

She said it might be because casinos make an effort to distribute the helpline number and people in the Milwaukee area seem to gamble at casinos more than they do at bars, through the Internet or in the lottery.

Calls to Potawatomi Bingo Casino, which Gruber cited as an example, were not returned.

Law professor Alison Barnes, who studies gambling, said another factor is that Milwaukee area residents have a casino "two minutes from downtown" and don't need to go far to gamble.

The 715 area code, which covers the northern Wisconsin cities of Ladysmith, Ashland and Superior, was the third-most common helpline call region in 2004.

Calling a helpline such as the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling's and acting on a referral to counseling can help a person with a gambling problem, Barnes said, but only if that person wants to be helped.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Jan. 25 2005.