Sometimes even “free” can be a hard sell.
An Arlington, Va.-based developer of software systems that block individuals from engaging in compulsive behaviors via the Internet is offering its gambling-related program free of charge to treatment centers that work with gambling addicts. Problem Products eventually seeks payment directly from the individuals who continue to use ProblemPoker as part of their aftercare, but a Problem Products board member says the company seeks to get its foot in the door with the treatment community first.
“A lot of the treatment centers think their courses are so good that aftercare is an afterthought,” says Mark Gart, a Problem Products board member who is the uncle of the company’s director of operations. “But somebody has to be over your shoulder.”
Gart says online gaming has become so prevalent and insidious (even though it remains illegal in most of the country) that it poses a constant threat to individuals who have crossed the line into pathological behavior. “You can be home at 2 in the morning and have the urge, and you have no one to talk to,” he says.
ProblemPoker allows individuals to block their access to online gaming sites by filtering their Internet connection. If a computer user with the software still attempts to visit a gaming site, the system automatically will generate a message to the individual’s “sponsor,” although that term does not necessarily refer to a 12-Step program sponsor—it is more of a digital sponsor who could be a family member or a health professional.
Problem Products has been in business for about four years, and also markets programs that target online use of prescription drug buying sites, pornography, and shopping options. Gart says the company initially marketed its gambling program through search engine optimization and print advertising, and through that approach the addict would be the person making contact with the company about 60% of the time. It is now turning its attention to signing up treatment centers, offering them licenses to redistribute the program to their patients.
Gart, who says two European companies market similar products, expresses urgency over the need to combat problematic online gaming: He believes that with state governments so cash-strapped, online gaming will be legal in many places before too long.