Statistics for the month of March won't be compiled for another week or so, but it's expected that New Jersey's compulsive gambling helpline will have seen an uptick in the number of calls related to internet gambling.

To battle the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, Atlantic City's nine casinos were shut down indefinitely on the night of March 16. Because you can participate from the comfort of your own home, online gaming was permitted to continue.

And within days, online gambling providers in the state began seeing a significant spike in volume and revenue.

Later, an executive order from Gov. Phil Murphy would essentially force people to stay at home except when conducting essential business. The unique situation has caught the attention of professionals devoted to assisting individuals with an addiction to betting.

"When you can't get your drug of choice, you're going to reach out to something else — same thing with a gambler," said Neva Pryor, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey. "And even those who never had a problem might develop one."

The nonprofit is neither for nor against gambling. But, Pryor said, individuals gambling from a laptop or phone may be willing to throw more money at the activity because it can easily be done through a credit card. Plus, the opportunity is always at one's fingertips. At a brick-and-mortar casino, when one's out of cash, an ATM withdrawal is typically needed in order to continue playing.

"I'm very concerned," Pryor said. "It's not just the problem and disordered gambler."

Pryor noted New Jersey residents have "self-exclusion" options that would prevent one from participating in internet gaming activities for one year or five years. The state gives residents the option to make this move up front for all sites, or players can do it through an active account. A number of sites also allow players to limit their activities, including how much they gamble.

During the public health emergency, the 800-GAMBLER helpline remains a 24/7 operation. According to the Council, there are phone meetings available for problem gamblers.

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