Many New Jerseyans' usual Super Bowl parties may be curtailed this year, which means they might find themselves looking to create their own excitement surrounding the big game.

There is some local interest, namely former Eagles and current Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid looking for his second straight championship, plus the participation of longtime Jets, Giants, and Eagles nemesis Tom Brady, but Neva Pryor, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of NJ, said the main storyline in the Garden State is actually the COVID-19 pandemic.

The health crisis' initial casino closures, coupled with the midsummer resumption of sports in a state where betting on athletic competition is still newly legal, has led many straight to their devices to place wagers.

"Now, they're on their phones, and we've already seen an increase in sports betting and internet gaming since the pandemic," Pryor said.

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While the Council, which also identifies itself by its 800-GAMBLER hotline number, does get pre-emptive calls from people seeking ways to suppress their betting urges before the championship game, Pryor said most of their activity happens Monday morning, when gamblers realize how much they've lost, and what they've bet it on.

The Super Bowl is one of the highlight events for so-called "prop bets," which have nothing to do with the result of the game or player performances, but instead focus on trivialities like the length of the National Anthem, or the color of the Gatorade that will be dumped on the winning head coach.

It's those elements that draw in people who usually have no interest in sports, gambling, or sports gambling, Pryor said.

"There's a lot of excitement, and people might say, 'Oh, well, I want some skin in the game, I think I'll wager.' It's the same thing with the lottery," she said. "It's going to be action-packed, and that's what a lot of people are looking for with gambling: for the money, but a lot with the action."

The Council's position is that it is neither for or against gambling, but wants those who gamble, and their families, to know there is a place to turn for help if needed, because betting does share many characteristics with other addictive activities such as drug or alcohol use.

"We've had people call for information on how not to gamble during the Super Bowl, and some of the 12-step groups will have their own kind of parties," Pryor said.

Aside from the 800-GAMBLER phone number, the Council's website, 800gambler.org, also offers an online chat feature, and video and other resources.

But most importantly, Pryor said, they offer support, treatment, and hope — and are "only a phone call or click away."

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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