Sue Scheff: Teen Gambling Addiction

By Connect with Kids

“I think if someone had asked me if I had wanted to go out with a beautiful girl or sit at home and play poker, I probably would have said I’d play poker.”

– Daniel Gushue, 22 years old

<!–a href=”#” target=”_blank”>Sprint</a–>Daniel was a compulsive gambler.

Over the course of two years he racked up 18 thousand dollars of credit card debt.

 “So on a typical night, my gambling at its worst, say here Oct. 25th,”  Daniel says looking at his bank statement, “I deposited $50, I deposited another 50, another 50, a 100, another 100, 50, and then 200.  So all-in-all that’s 6- $600.”

A survey by the University of Buffalo found that over two percent of teens admit to having a gambling problem.  That’s a small number, but that represents 750 thousand teens.

And some are stealing or selling possessions to continue gambling.

Experts blame accessibility.

“So whereas 15-20 years ago you have to get into a car, drive to a casino, might take you an hour or two hours or three hours to get there, now you can just pick up your cell phone and be gambling while you are waiting in the doctor’s office, or while you’re waiting at the bus stop,” explains Dr. Timothy Fong, Addiction Psychiatrist.

That’s why, experts say, parents need to be proactive.

According to psychologist Dr. Larry Rosen that means, “Familiarize yourself with what potential problems your kids might come up against, and sit them down and talk to them.”

Daniel doesn’t play online poker anymore, but he does gamble on sports.

That makes his girlfriend, Carlee Schaper, nervous.  “When it comes to watching him online, sports betting and things like that, I don’t like to see him doing that, because I feel like it’s a slippery slope, and, um, it’s possible for him to go back to his old ways.”

 “Should I be gambling?” says Daniel, “Probably not.  But for the time being I’m in a good place.”

Tips for Parents

The numbers from a University of Buffalo study are staggering.  Three-quarters of a million teens have a serious gambling problem.  That includes stealing money to gamble, gambling more money then initially planned, or selling possessions to gamble more.   Another 11 percent of teens admit to gambling at least twice a week.  Evidence shows that individuals who begin gambling at an early age run a much higher lifetime risk of developing a gambling problem. 

Some individuals and organizations support teaching poker to adolescents as a real-life means of instructing on critical reasoning, mathematics and probability. They say teaching the probability of winning is the most important aspect of the game and that the mathematics behind the reasoning that will show kids they won’t win in the long run.

The legal gambling age in the United States is 21. Poker sites enable minors to play by clicking a box to verify that they are the legal age and entering a credit card number. Age is verified further only if suspicions are raised.

Some researchers call gambling the fastest-growing teenage addiction.  Teens are especially vulnerable to gambling because of the excitement, the risk and their belief that skill is involved.  The Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling and the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling lists the following warning signs that a teen may be struggling with a gambling problem:

  • Unexplained need for money:  Valuables missing from the home and frequently borrowing money
  • Withdrawal from the family:  Changes in personality, impatience, criticism, sarcasm, increased hostility, irritability, making late-night calls, fewer outside activities, a drop in grades and unaccountable time away from home
  • Interest in sports teams with no prior allegiance:  Watching televised sports excessively, exhibiting an unusual interest in sports reports, viewing multiple games at one time, running up charges to 900 sports phone numbers and showing hostility over the outcome of a game
  • Gambling paraphernalia:  Betting slips, IOUs, lottery tickets, frequent card and dice games at home and the overuse of gambling language, such as “bet,” in conversation
  • Coming to parents to pay gambling debts
  • Using lunch or bus money to gamble

Ask yourself the following questions if you suspect your child has a gambling addiction:

  • Is your child out of the house or confined to a room with a computer for long, unexplained periods of time?
  • Does your child miss work, school or extra-curricular activities?
  • Can your child be trusted with money?
  • Does your child borrow money to gamble with or to pay gambling debts?
  • Does your child hide his or her money?
  • Have you noticed a personality change in your child?
  • Does your child consistently lie to cover up or deny his or her gambling activities?

Compulsive gambling is an illness, progressive in nature. There is no cure, but with help the addiction can be suppressed. Many who gamble live in a dream world to satisfy emotional needs. The gambler dreams of a life filled with friends, new cars, furs, penthouses, yachts, etc. However, a gambler usually will return to win more, so no amount of winning is sufficient to reach these dreams.

The compulsion to gamble can easily lead to self-destructive behavior, especially for teens.  If you are concerned that a young person you care about has a gambling problem, encourage him or her to contact a gambling help line in your area or to seek professional help at a gambling treatment facility.

References

  • American Family Association
  • Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling
  • Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling
  • National Gambling Impact Study Commission
  • Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education
  • University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions
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