Problem Gamblers Have A New Face To See At NCPG

NCPG’s Program Director Jaime Costello On The Fight Against Problem Gambling In The US

Problem gamblers will see a new face at the nonprofit National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG). Jaime Costello is the new Program Director for District of Columbia-based NCPG, and she spoke to Online Poker Report about her ideas.

In her new role, Costello is in charge of planning, implementation and evaluation of NCPG programs. She’ll also monitor those efforts and speak publicly about problem gambling.

In other words, Costello may be the face many Americans associate with the NCPG.

NCPG Executive Director Keith Whyte said in NCPG’s April 21 announcement:

“We look forward to the growth of NCPG programs under Jaime’s unique combination of energy, thought leadership and experience.”

Costello’s background relates to her NCPG role

Costello joins NCPG as six states offer legal online casino gambling and 19 allow online sports betting. As for the latter, NCPG released a study in March 2021 that found sports bettors were most at-risk for becoming problem gamblers.

So Costello, who holds a master’s degree in public health from the University of New England, hopes that at NCPG she can help “modernize the National Problem Gambling Helpline and achieve other milestones outlined in the [National Football League Foundation] grant.”

Before NCPG, Costello was the director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling (NYCPG) Bureau of Prevention and Training. There, she contributed to developing and growing the Problem Gambling Resource Centers, which are divided into seven regions to serve New York.

The NFLF grant aimed at sports bettors

NCPG talked in October 2021 about how the organization will use the $6.2 million grant from the National Football League Foundation (NFLF):

“The three-year grant … will enable NCPG to significantly upgrade their National Problem Gambling Helpline, provide grants to nonprofit organizations across the country for problem gambling prevention programs, and launch communications initiatives that focus on responsible gambling and where to get help for gambling addiction, including public service announcement[s] and their new website, www.responsibleplay.org.”

Costello speaks to OPR

OPR‘s questions are in bold and Costello’s answers follow.

What is the scope of your role?

The major priority in my role as Director of Programs with NCPG will be to lead a major Helpline Modernization Project, one of the components of the NFL Foundation grant to NCPG. I will also oversee the planning, development and evaluation of NCPG programs, support strategic planning efforts through consistent monitoring and serve as a spokesperson for NCPG and national problem gambling efforts.

How will your position help NCPG grow?

Growing an organization requires strategic planning and staff support while ensuring that programs are efficient and effective. I’m hoping to couple my experience developing and evaluating programs with my skills in team support and planning to support the growth of NCPG and to move the field of problem gambling forward.

How will your work reach the average American?

Reaching the average American is paramount to what we do. Education and awareness are key tools in the prevention of problem gambling.

As of 2021, fewer than half (45%) of Americans did not know where to get help for someone with a gambling problem. Our goal with the Helpline Modernization Project is to strengthen the National Helpline Network so that every individual and family member who needs support related to gambling consequences have access to care.

NCPG will also be launching a nationwide PSA later this year to help raise awareness about problem gambling and the resources that are available.

What do you see as the greatest need for US problem gamblers? How will you address it?

Again, the greatest need for those struggling is access to care.

The next step is ensuring that those who are ready for help know where to access those services, and that once they reach out help is available.

We will also continue to work with the leagues, operators and other industry partners to build strong responsible gambling programs. Integrating prevention, education and research into problem gambling consumer protection programs, while making treatment and recovery available and accessible, is the best way to improve public health and reduce the personal, social and economic costs of problem gambling.

What role does online gambling play in problem gambling?

Online gambling allows an individual 24/7 access to gambling activities. We know that increased access to gambling opportunities can very easily lead to problem gambling. Additionally, online gambling is easier to hide from others, so it’s less likely that a loved one or peer will recognize the harm in the early stages of addiction.

On top of that, it’s so easy to get stuck in the internet.

We’ve all done it – whether we’re on social media, online shopping or reading news articles.

The difference is that when we get wrapped up in online gambling and lose touch, even temporarily, with reality, there are major losses at stake.

We strongly encourage online gambling operators, vendors and regulators to consult with experts in the problem and responsible gambling field during the development and implementation of their programs to ensure adequate consumer protections.

Are sports gamblers most at risk of becoming problem gamblers?

It’s too early to draw a direct correlation between sports gambling and the development of a gambling problem; and thus, far [too] little research is being done into prevalence rates. However, NCPG research indicates that there has been a significant increase in problematic gambling activity from 2018 to 2021. Problematic play was found to be especially prevalent among two at-risk groups: sports bettors, including those who play daily fantasy sports; and younger gamblers (ages 18 to 44).

How do you plan to use the $6.2 million NFLF grant?

The grant from the NFL Foundation has three major components:

1) A significant upgrade the National Problem Gambling Helpline, including technology modernization;

2) The establishment of the Agility Grant program to provide grants to nonprofit organizations across the country for problem gambling prevention programs; and

3) An investment in communications initiatives that focus on responsible gambling, including the site responsibleplay.org and a national PSA campaign.

Are problem gamblers the same % of gamblers as online gambling grows?

As I had mentioned previously, there is very little research being done on the prevalence rates around problem gambling, though the trends that we are seeing are concerning.

Calls to the National Problem Gambling Helpline were up 45% in 2021 (from 2020), text and chat contacts grew even more significantly (text grew by 85%, chat by 117% in 2021 from 2020). These numbers, in addition to the increase in risky gambling behavior has us very concerned.

What would you like to see change within the next year?

The most ethical and cost-effective response to gambling addiction issues is a comprehensive public health strategy that includes prevention, education, treatment, enforcement, responsible gambling, research and recovery services.

In the next year, I would love to see states and fields come together to build true collaboration around the issue of problem gambling. So much of life these days is not confined by geographic borders, and we all have similar missions – we want to help. Our best work will come out of the synergy we can build together.

When will problem gambling research/outreach address issues among women?

In the past year or so, the field has started to take a special interest in problem gambling among women. Much of this movement has been driven by individuals in recovery. While there is still a long way to go to ensure women are able to access and receive treatment and recovery services, it has been inspiring to watch this movement grow.

How does educational outreach need to change, in general?

As far as outreach and education goes, we need to ensure that we’re reaching communities where they’re at. That means tailoring messages and programs to very specific target audiences. This can be tricky and time consuming, but it’s the only effective way to engage people in the conversation around problem gambling.

On top of that, there have been massive shifts in how people receive information in the last five to 10 years. So much information is found in the digital spaces, but many people trust what they hear from peers more than information on the internet.

We’re really going to dig deep and focus on supporting communities who are at different stages of readiness and utilize health literacy concepts to educate across the board.

What else would you like OPR readers to know about you?

I’d like folks to know that my passion lies in engaging leaders and communities in change efforts and I’m a firm believer that interdisciplinary work is the only way we’ll be able to make change.

I have almost fifteen years of experience working in the field of problem gambling, and I’m really excited to bring what I’ve learned to the national level to support the change happening in states across the country.

- Heather Fletcher is the lead writer with OnlinePokerReport. She's a career journalist, with bylines in The New York Times, Adweek and other publications. Reach her at [email protected]
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