In the 1980s, as the Center for Youth Studies reviewed trends of youth culture, we said gambling would become a teenage problem in the 1990s. The reasons for this prediction included the following:
The emphasis, even in children’s media, on material possessions and money.
New and explicit advertisements for gambling casinos and state lotteries.
Media encouragement for children and young people to confuse fantasy with reality and to replace solid and realistic dreams (arrived at through hard work) with short cuts and illusions.
The increase in teenage risky behaviors and the correlation among those behaviors in certain youth.
It was not our opinion that all young people would get into gambling, but that for some it would be a very appealing escape-even an addiction.
Gambling is by definition the wagering of money, or anything of value, upon the outcome of an event such as the roll of dice, a hand of cards (or other table game), or the outcome of a athletic contest. “Gaming” is sometimes used synonymously with “gambling;” sometimes it refers more narrowly to forms of wagering that require a gambler’s participation such as dice, cards, and wheel games.
Gambling is illegal in many countries and was generally so in the U.S. until recently. The mafia and other crime bosses control gambling where it is not legally allowed. In the U.S., Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada and Atlantic City, New Jersey have long been exceptional sites for legal gambling. In the 1980s and 1990s the number of cities allowing gambling, the use of river or ocean boats for gambling outside jurisdictions, and gambling on American Indian reservations have made legal gambling much more accessible. But what has brought gambling to perhaps a majority of Americans has been the rise of legal state lotteries. By the late 1990s, every state except Hawaii and Utah had some form of legal gambling…and advertising hype about huge payoffs is picked up by impressionable kids.
It is difficult to estimate the amount of money involved in gambling, but it is certainly in the high millions in Canada and billions in the U.S. This is a great deal of money for the industry or state-and conversely it represents painful losses for heavier gamblers. Many families and homes have been broken because of gambling carried too far.
Those who support gambling claim the following benefits:
It can be an enjoyable entertainment.
It creates jobs where there is no other form of employment and creates capital for state, municipal (for educational projects, etc.), or private (Native American) development.
It is, therefore, a rather painless kind of voluntary taxation.
Critics of legalized gambling argue:
Gambling has deep roots with organized crime, and legalized gambling can be a “legitimate” way for them to continue their activities.
Gambling often has negative effects on a community, attracting anti-social elements and dispersing positive citizens and organizations.
The money raised through gambling is a “tax” coming disproportionately from the poor.
The destructive effects of gambling on families and children have been demonstrated.
Without trying to settle this argument, we are here concerned with gambling as a alternative to hard work and thrifty management of money among young people. Also troubling is the increase of teenager gambling addiction.
The issue of teenager gambling was presented at the American Psychological Association in mid-August, 1998. Researchers from Canada and the U.S. found that 5-8% of young Canadians and Americans report a “serious gambling problem-a rate twice as high as reported by adults.”
Jeffrey Derevensky of McGill University in Montreal reports teenagers being drawn into games of chance and finding it more addictive than smoking, alcohol, or drugs:
We call it the silent addiction. You can’t smell it on their breath; you can’t see it in their eyes. Gambling is going to be a huge social policy issue.
Randy Stinchfield of the University of Minnesota surveyed almost 200,000 teenagers about their gambling habits.
This is the first generation of kids exposed to widespread gambling advertisement, and gambling opportunities. Some kids see gambling as a rite of passage…They become involved with gambling sooner than they become involved with smoking and alcohol use.
Stinchfield’s research further shows how pervasive gambling is among young people:
Some 80 percent of teenage boys surveyed said they gambled in the past year.
20 Percent reported gambling weekly.
Additionally, notes Stinchfield, “Boys gambled three to four times more often than girls, and older students gambled more often than younger students.”
Lottery tickets are sold where kids (and often the more vulnerable ones) hang out. And its advertising is a shining lure for children and older youth. Durand Jacobs of Loma Linda University is studying gambling in relationship to other high-risk behaviors and concludes that for most teenagers gambling has already passed smoking and drug abuse and is catching up with alcohol. He is particularly concerned about lottery’s hype and accessibility.
The lottery does have that effect. I call it the Pied Piper of gambling for kids.
Children’s Hospital of Boston sponsored a survey of almost 17,000 Vermont 8th-12th graders in late 1998. Its findings:
50 Percent of kids had bet on sporting events or card games, bought lottery tickets, or slipped into casinos to play illegally in the past year.
Seven percent reported their habit was causing problems with family and friends.
Teens who gambled more were more likely to be engaged in other risky behaviors, such as abusing alcohol, using drugs, having unprotected sex, and getting into fights.
Senior author of this study, Elizabeth Goodman, found this study to agree with earlier research-including the evidence that compulsive gambling in adults often begins in adolescence. Many addicted gamblers say it took about 10 years for their youthful gambling to become compulsive.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Does this article agree with what you have experienced and know about gambling? What would you add or change to this introduction?
What is your personal experience with gambling? If someone gave you $20 to gamble, would you do so? If you were traveling, and happened, with plenty of time, to come across a gambling casino, would you take a little money and gamble?
What and how will you teach your own children about gambling? Is there a place in school or a youth group for a good session on gambling? How would you like to see this session run?
How would you intervene in the life of a teenage friend who seemed to be gambling recklessly?
Our studies show that careful observation and analysis of the youth culture can predict some trends.
The evidence is clear that gambling among teenagers is a rising, serious problem.
Prevention and treatment for most harmful teenage behaviors are not all separate. When self image, positive values and disciplines, solid goals are stressed in a positive group setting, and when feelings are openly shared, we prevent young people from slipping into destructive behaviors.
Just as there is correlation between risky behaviors, there is correlation between young people receiving religious support and training and the absence of at risk behaviors.