Gambling: A bad bet for young people

Elizabeth M. George

Gambling: A bad bet for young people

“We finally found something for kids to do that is exciting, entertaining, and harmless…lets organize a ’casino night’ at the high school”. Not so, according to scientific studies. Research reveals that 6% of young people and young adults have a gambling problem – compared to 1% of the adult population.

Kids Don’t Gamble…Wanna Bet?
Gambling is promoted with exciting images of instantaneous wealth, power, status and freedom – what is there not to like for a teen? Yet, for many young people, gambling has little to do with money. In reality, many young people gamble because of problems at home, low self-esteem, role modeling and avoidance of pain and grief.

Problems at home and role modeling For teens with an unstable family life, such as parental alcohol or drug addiction, violence or abuse, gambling can be an escape from those painful realities. Gambling can also be family trips to the race track, poker playing, fantasy sports leagues, lottery tickets given to teens by respected adults, or bets on sports events and football/ basketball boards. These activities are all gates through which teens first enter the exciting and magical world of gambling.

Unfortunately, these events usually come without any warning to the teen of the addictive nature of gambling. Research indicates that the adult role model gives no warning because they, too, are unaware of the addictive potential of gambling. Research reveals that when parents were asked about their children’s gambling (age 15 or less), only 8% indicated that they would be very concerned about their child’s gambling behavior.

Low Self-esteem and Pain and Loss
People love winners! For those young people who lack self-esteem, winning a bet provides a powerful boost in confidence and peeresteem.

Most of us will go through loss and trauma in our lives. For a teen, trauma and loss can include loss of a job, position on a sports team, breakup of a relationship, divorce of parents, or death of grandparent or friend. Most work through the loss with help of a support group of friends or family. Others who may have low self-esteem or may feel isolated and without friends may turn to something to ease the pain – to anesthetize themselves from the unbearable loss. That something with which they medicate could be alcohol, drugs, or gambling.

College Students and Gambling
College students are among the most vulnerable when it comes to gambling. A combination of free time, living away from home, online gambling, easy access to student loan money and credit cards; doesn’t mix well. Approximately 75% of college students gambled during the past year – some gambled legally, some did not – with 18% of students gambling weekly or more frequently. The most popular forms of gambling for this group include; lotteries, card games, sports betting, and fantasy sports. Research suggests that casino nights and poker tournaments are also popular at special events promoted by campus organizations.

There are state lotteries and some casinos that allow 18-year-olds to play, but the real cause has been the rise of online gambling. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Act of 2006 tried to restrict online gambling, but fantasy sports were declared a “game of skill”, rather than a game of chance, and were excluded from this regulation, giving way to an explosion of daily fantasy sports leagues. A credit card is all that it takes for a college student, or someone younger, to get wrapped up in the world of online gambling.

Warning Signs of a Gambling Problem
In a manner similar to other addictions, there is a progression to the addiction to gambling. It is important to know the warning signs that may lead to more desperate behaviors if gambling continues.
● Frequent unexplained absences from classes
● Sudden drop in grades
● Progressive preoccupation with gambling
● Withdrawal from friends and family
● Visible changes in behavior and mood
● Decline in health and increased symptoms of depression
● Lies about gambling behavior
● Feels compelled to chase losses – with even more gambling
● Unsuccessful attempts to cut back or stop gambling
● Gambles to escape problems
● Exaggerated display of money or possessions
● Unexplained debt
● Borrows money to gamble
● Feels need to increase betting amounts

Universities Step up to the Plate
According to recommendations from the report, Gambling Behaviors, Beliefs and Motives among College Students in Ohio, “Campus counselors need to start asking about and screening for problem gambling with all students who come to the counseling center with any mental health or substance use issue given the high correlations for co-occurring disorders. Campus counselors need to seek training and certification in the delivery of problem gambling clinical services.” For example, the American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders offers certification in drugs, alcohol, sex addiction, eating disorders, as well as gambling disorders.

The University of Missouri program, Keeping the Score, was founded to collaboratively develop strategies for promoting positive, healthy choices among Missouri’s college students. The coalition, Partners in Prevention recognized the importance of understanding gambling is not a risk-free activity and that it is becoming increasingly important to learn risk factors, warning signs and strategies to protect yourself or someone you care about. The University of Denver expanded its Alcohol Council to include four other high-risk behaviors, including gambling. The goal is to be cognizant about high-risk behaviors among students that impact academic and personal success in a college environment.

Oregon State University recognizes that gambling is a student health issue and has incorporated gambling and gambling disorders into its Student Health Services website. The gambling section covers:
● Facts on college gambling
● Problem gambling and warning signs
● Tips for safer gambling
● Treatment options for problem gamblers.

The University of Alabama created the Gambling Action Team to facilitate campus-wide awareness and assistance strategies to address problem gambling. The Team provides practical information, learning opportunities and educational and awareness programs for the student body, targeting student-athletes, graduate students, freshmen and faculty.

University of Minnesota Duluth Continuing Education offers an online certificate course, Studies in Gambling Addiction Certificate Program, to assist campus counselors and other mental health professionals in the identification and treatment of college students with a gambling problem.

Gambling on the Radar Screen
Parents, educators, campus counselors, mentors, afterschool programs and others who interact regularly with students need to:
● Recognize that gambling is not a totally harmless form of entertainment.
● Young people are at an elevated risk for developing a gambling addiction.
● Encourage policies that address internet gambling and hosting casino nights in schools.
● Start talking to young people about responsible gambling and the addictive nature of gambling.
● Add gambling to the radar screen of at-risk behaviors for young people.