How Does a Little Gambling Become a Big Problem?
Reese, 14, from Connecticut, bets on Ping-Pong, poker games, and even grades. He once wagered with his brother about the correct name of a brand of soft drink. "I love to gamble," says the high school freshman. "Everybody gambles." Reese is right. Studies show that 80 percent of teens gamble by the time they graduate from high school, whether by betting on poker games or buying a lottery ticket. "Approximately 70 percent of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 have gambled at least once in the past year," says Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG). "That's the highest it's ever been in our nation's history. It's the first time the youth rate has ever matched the adult rate."
Temptation Is Everywhere
Although teens, and even their parents, may look at gambling as a fun and safe activity, experts say many are unaware that what they're doing could be illegal and a risk to their health. "The earlier you start, the more likely you are to become a gambling addict," Whyte says. "We don't know, of the kids who are gambling, which ones are going to develop problems." Teenagers may start gambling in elementary school, betting a nickel or a dime on whether a friend will make a foul shot on the basketball court. They may even receive lottery tickets from relatives as holiday or birthday presents. Or they may watch the World Series of Poker on ESPN and start playing Texas hold 'em in a friend's basement. The four most popular types of gambling among teens, according to Whyte, are betting on sports, betting on card games, playing lottery games, and betting on games of skill such as pool. Brandon, a 17-year-old high school junior from Virginia, says he and his friends gather in the school parking lot at the end of the day and play blackjack on the hoods of cars for $1 a hand. "One time I won, like, 10 bucks," he says. "We just do it for fun." With casinos in many states and lottery games in almost all of them, gambling has become a socially acceptable form of entertainment, says Jeffrey L. Derevensky, a professor of child psychology at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. "Kids gamble for the same reasons adults gamble--the excitement, the enjoyment, and … money," says Derevensky, who is also the director of Youth Gambling International, an organization devoted to gambling research and treatment.
The Darker Side of Games
But 4 to 6 percent of teens have a gambling problem, a rate that is higher than the rate of gambling problems among adults, says Derevensky. People may go from gambling socially once in a while to being at risk for a problem to having a pathological or compulsive need to gamble. A compulsive or pathological gambler feels driven to bet. Teens with gambling problems may become totally preoccupied with gambling or may lie and steal to get more money to bet, Derevensky says. "[Gambling] can totally disrupt their entire lives," he says. "It ruins friendships. It ruins family relationships. It destroys [teens'] academic success. There are many long-term negative consequences." Teens who gamble are also more at risk for other problems, including drinking and drug use. "We know that they tend to do … poorly in school; they tend to be greater risk takers; they tend to have higher levels of depression," Derevensky says. In fact, teens may become physically addicted to gambling. Researchers studying the chemical changes that take place in the brain have found that the areas activated during gambling are the same ones that light up when people use illegal drugs, according to psychologist Linda Chamberlain of the. University of South Florida's Counseling Center for Human Development in Tampa. "It's just that the chemicals in the brain are stimulated more by the activity than by a substance," she says. "[Gambling is] a pretty expensive addiction to get lost in."
Among gamblers who called a help line run by the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey in 2004, the average debt was $40,991, a record high. Calls by those under age 21 have been increasing since 2000 and, in 2004, made up 6 percent of all calls. Young gamblers are reporting problems with poker, a dice game called see-low, and sports betting. Edward Looney, the executive director of the organization, says that betting on sports (for example, participating in a football or basketball pool), is illegal.
Not Just Card Sharks
It is also illegal to gamble on the Internet in the United States, and for someone hosting a card game to take part of the pot, or the pool of money everyone has bet. "You can't do that," Looney says. "The only people who can do that are licensed people like casinos." Buying a lottery ticket if you're not of age is also illegal. "You're not supposed to be able to buy a lottery ticket until you're 18," says sociologist Rachel Volberg, who heads Gemini Research, a firm in Northampton, Mass., that studies gambling behavior. "But we think that about 50 percent of adolescents ages 16 and 17 have been able to buy lottery tickets in the past year." Teens may not be aware that that form of gambling is generally a losing proposition. The agencies that run lotteries have a 45 percent edge over the people buying the ticket, says Whyte. "On average, [for] every dollar you play on the lottery, you get back 55 cents," he explains.
Know When to Fold 'Em
There are ways of escaping the gambling habit, which can sometimes feel like a prison. Whyte notes a 16-year-old recently e-mailed the NCPG, saying he had started gambling by playing poker with his friends. Then he put all his savings on a debit card intended for emergencies and used that money to gamble on the Internet. "He had blown through $4,000," Whyte says. "He was e-mailing us because he didn't know how to tell his parents that he couldn't stop gambling." Recognizing his problem and seeking help might have been that teen's only safe bet.
80% of teens have gambled by the time they graduate from high school
4-6% of all teens have a serious gambling problem.
50% of teens who have a gambling problem steal money.
Is Gambling a Problem for You? A Quiz for Teens
Take this quiz from Youth Gambling International to find out if you're betting on trouble.
Do you find yourself thinking about gambling activities at odd times of the day and/or planning the next time you will play?
Do you find the need to spend more and more money on gambling activities?
Do you get restless, tense, fed up, or bad tempered when trying to cut down or stop gambling?
Do you gamble to escape from problems?
After spending money on gambling activities, at least half of the time do you play again another day to try to win your money back?
Do you lie to your family and friends to hide how much you gamble?
In the past year, have you spent your lunch or transportation money on gambling activities?
In the past year, have you taken money from someone you live with (without his or her knowledge) to gamble?
In the past year, have you stolen money from outside the family or shoplifted to gamble?
Have you fallen out with family members or close friends because of your gambling behavior?
In the past year, have you missed school five times or more to participate in gambling?
In the past year, have you sought help for a serious money worry caused by participating in gambling?
- Klein, Melissa; "Don’t Bet on It!"; Current Health 2; Vol. 32, Issue 8; Apr/May 2006
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.
Reflection Exercise #2
The preceding section contained information regarding helping families identify trends in teen gambling. Write three case study examples
regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 9
According to Klein, what percentage of teens have a gambling problem? Record the letter of the correct answer the