by Susan Stopper
Surrounded by sleek casino billboards, glamorous TV poker showdowns, ads for glitzy Vegas movies like 21 and the lure of win-big lotteries, it’s easy to see how gambling attracts kids.
“The same thing that attracts adults to gambling attracts children,” says Lisa Pertzoff, executive director for the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems. “It’s fun and exciting.” But when kids gamble, the stakes can be high. Adolescents are two to three times more likely than adults to become compulsive gamblers.
• Video games
• Personal skills (such as pool)
• Cards,especially Texas Hold ‘Em poker
“Texas Hold ‘Em is popular among teens,” says Jim Pappas, president and executive director for the Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania. “Many parents encourage their kids to have Friday and Saturday night poker games at home with their friends. They figure it’s better than having their kids out drinking and using drugs.”
While cards, lotteries and betting on sporting events can seem like benign activities, there are risks involved. “The vast majority who gamble do so without negative consequences,” says Pertzoff. “But a small percentage goes on to develop a gambling problem that can be devastating to the individual and the family.”
Youth gamblers are more likely to commit crimes, suffer from depression and engage in other high-risk behaviors such as using drugs and alcohol.
Who’s Most at Risk?
Though any child can develop a gambling problem, the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) says boys are more likely to. So are children with a family history of addiction. “It doesn’t have to be a gambling addiction,” says Pertzoff. The NCPG also reports that student athletes are at higher risk of becoming compulsive gamblers.
“Gambling gave my son another way to compete,” says Jim Hughes (not his real name) of Wilmington, DE, whose son competed in high school sports and became involved in sports betting in his early teens.
The Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey (CCGNJ) advises parents to talk to their children about the risks of gambling the same way they do about drugs, alcohol and sex.
• Encourage your kids to set limits, practice moderation and make good decisions.
• Model responsible behavior toward gambling.
• Show your kids how to spend and save money wisely. Teach them the value of hard work and the meaning of earning.
• Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, Hamilton, NJ,
• Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania,
Phila., PA, 800-848-1880,
• Delaware Council on Gambling Problems, Wilmington, DE,
• Gamblers Anonymous,
• National Council on Problem Gambling, 800-522-4700,
What to Watch For
“If your child comes home stoned or drunk, you can see that,” says Hughes. “A gambling problem can be tougher to pick up because there aren’t always outward indications.” Signs your child is gambling can
• Unexplained need for money or unexplained wealth
• Decline in grade performance
• Mysterious phone calls
• Selling personal belongings
• Missing cash or valuables
• Anxiety, depression or mood swings
• Dropping of outside activities
• Unaccountable time away from home
• Extreme reactions to sports outcomes
• Calling or texting score lines for sports results and point spreads
• Interest in sports teams with no previous allegiance
“Grades often deteriorate and money is almost always an issue,” says Pappas. “There might be money missing from your wallet or your child comes home hungry because he used his lunch money to gamble.”
If You Suspect a Problem
Sometimes just having a conversation in which you ask about your child’s gambling brings out the truth. “Talk to your child. Have an open and honest conversation and find out what level of intervention is appropriate.” advises Keith Whyte, executive director for the NCPG.
Once you suspect your child has a gambling problem, the CCGNJ says establish tighter controls on money in the home. The less access children have to money the harder it is to gamble.
Get help from an organization dedicated to helping compulsive gamblers. These organizations can help parents find resources in their area. “Sometimes children have difficulty relating in self-help groups because they are mostly adults,” cautions Pappas. “Organizations like ours can help parents get in touch with psychologists and therapists trained to work with youth.”
Susan Stopper is a local freelance writer.