1-800-VISIT-NJ Spells Trouble for State

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Several states have toll-free tourist information lines that begin "1-800-VISIT." But not New Jersey--and some prospective visitors who tried the number got a decidedly different kind of hospitality.

Tourism officials were alarmed to learn that dialing 1-800-VISIT-NJ connected callers with a $3.99-per-minute, live phone-sex line for gay men, not tourist tips.

"We contacted the phone company, and they told us there wasn't much we could do about it," said Dave Marziale, spokesman for the Department of Commerce, which operates the state's tourism hotline, 1-800-JERSEY7.

State officials said it was just a distressing coincidence.

"There's at least three letters to each number on the dial and who knows what you can spell out," Marziale said.

For example, 1-800-VISIT-NJ, or 1-800-847-4865, also spells out 1-800-847-HUNK.

Several states, including Montana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia, have tourist information lines that begin with 1-800 VISIT and end with the state's postal code.

Travel agents told New Jersey state officials about the mix-up last month, and the state tried unsuccessfully to get the sex line's number changed. The number has since been taken out of service.

The operators of the sex line could not be reached for comment.

Republican state Assemblyman Nick Asselta said the operator's parent company is Interactive Telecommunications Network, but he could get no further information about it.

Assembly Deputy Minority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a Bergen Democrat, urged Gov. Christine Todd Whitman to explore buying the rights to the number.

"The state is spending about $4 million on advertising and promotion to boost New Jersey's image as a tourist destination," she said. "We can't jeopardize that campaign by letting this mix-up explode into the latest Jersey joke."

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