HAMILTON, N.J. (AP) — The day after the Super Bowl is the end of the season for most football fans. But for decades, it wasn't for Frank Lazzaro. The Bergen County man would inevitably bet thousands of dollars on the championship game, which led to even more bets.
HAMILTON, N.J. (AP) — The day after the Super Bowl is the end of the season for most football fans.
But for decades, it wasn't for Frank Lazzaro. The Bergen County man would inevitably bet thousands of dollars on the championship game, which led to even more bets.
"If I lost my bet, I'm scrambling," he said. "I'm thinking, 'Now there's all these other sports out there' to bet on to catch up. If I won, now I'm thinking, 'Wow, I can parlay this into an even greater success.'"
Eventually, after more than 30 years, several million dollars in losses and four years in prison for stealing money to cover his debts, Lazzaro got help for his gambling problem. And now, with the Super Bowl less than a week away, New Jersey is taking its programs to help compulsive gamblers on the road, hoping to reach people like Lazzaro.
The state Council on Compulsive Gambling launched a mobile billboard Tuesday that will drive around MetLife Stadium and other heavily populated areas of the state, publicizing the 1-800-GAMBLER help line and other programs to assist problem gamblers.
The council wants to reach as many of the estimated 35,000 New Jerseyans who have sports betting problems as possible. That represents about 10 percent of the 350,000 New Jerseyans who the council says have gambling problems of any sort.
"Most of New Jersey is caught up in the excitement of next Sunday's game," said Donald Weinbaum, the councilor's executive director. "For many, that means placing a casual bet with friends or co-workers. Most of these people do not have a problem. But for those who do, the impact can be quite serious, both for the gambler and for those close to them.
"For them, a bet on the Super Bowl could be part of a greater problem — one that has begun to affect other areas of life such as job, family, finances, emotional state or thinking," he said.
The Seattle Seahawks will face the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, the first to be played in New Jersey. The council is making its biggest effort ever to reach out to compulsive gamblers and encourage them to seek help.
The billboard arrived at the council's suburban Trenton headquarters on Tuesday and was to begin its journey through heavily populated spots in Bergen, Hudson, Essex, Passaic and other counties. It will continue through the day after the Super Bowl.
Lazzaro said his wife urged him to get the help that saved his life. He said he stole from relatives, friends and others to pay off his gambling losses.
"Reach out and get help, because this is a dead end," Lazzaro said. "Nothing good is going to come out of it."
Even now, 14 years after his last bet, Lazzaro said it's tough fighting the lure of the quick buck.
"I won't lie to you: I know what the line is on the game on Sunday," he said. "It's everywhere. I just have to keep myself away from that."
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC