The Rise of Teenage Gambling

A distressing number of youths are bitten early by the betting bug

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 2)

Why does gambling fever run so high among teens? Researchers point to the legitimization of gambling in America, noting that it is possible to place a legal bet in every state except Utah and Hawaii. Moreover, ticket vendors rarely ask to see proof of age, despite lottery laws in 33 states and the District of Columbia requiring that customers be at least 18 years old. "You have state governments promoting lotteries," says Valerie Lorenz, director of the National Center for Pathological Gambling, based in Baltimore. "The message they're conveying is that gambling is not a vice but a normal form of entertainment." Researchers also point to unstable families, low self-esteem and a societal obsession with money. "At the casinos you feel very important," says Rich of Bethesda, Md., a young recovering addict. "When you're spending money at the tables, they give you free drinks and call you Mister."

Efforts to combat teen problem gambling are still fairly modest. Few states offer educational programs that warn young people about the addictive nature of gambling; treatment programs designed for youths are virtually nonexistent. In Minnesota, where a study found that more than 6% of all youths between 15 and 18 are problem gamblers, $200,000 of the expected income from the state's new lottery will go toward a youth-education campaign. That may prove to be small solace. Betty George, who heads the Minnesota Council on Compulsive Gambling, warns that the lottery and other anticipated legalized gambling activities are likely to spur youth gambling.

Security guards at casinos in Atlantic City and Nevada have been instructed to be on the alert for minors. But it is a daunting task. Each month some 29,000 underage patrons are stopped at the door or ejected from the floors of Atlantic City casinos. "We can rationally assume that if we stop 29,000, then a few hundred manage to get through," says Steven Perskie, chairman of New Jersey's Casino Control Commission. Commission officials say they may raise the fines imposed on casinos that allow customers under 21 to gamble.

Counselors fear that little will change until society begins to view teenage gambling with the same alarm directed at drug and alcohol abuse. "Public understanding of gambling is where our understanding of alcoholism was some 40 or 50 years ago," says psychologist Jacobs. "Unless we wake up soon to gambling's darker side, we're going to have a whole new generation lost to this addiction."

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next Page