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"Underage Gambling Is A Problem That
Often Goes Unnoticed"

By: Tyson Sprick
Raytown South High School, Raytown, MO

Gambling has been a popular pastime for centuries. The allure of risking a little with hopes of gaining a lot draws in players of all ages and backgrounds. Unfortunately, a simple gambling game can turn into a painful addiction with devastating consequences.

-Acceptance - Approximately 80% of high school students have gambled for money during the past year, according to several studies. Ed Looney, the executive director for the Council on Compulsive Gambling to New Jersey, acknowledges this statistic. "Every high school we go to there is gambling," he explains.

Four to eight percent of adolescents currently have a serious gambling problem, while another ten to fourteen percent are at risk for developing a serious gambling problem. That said most parents and their teens view gambling as an acceptable behavior. Many adults buy their children lottery tickets as gifts or knowingly allow them to gamble. In one study conducted in Minnesota, only 9 percent of parents of children 15 and younger said they would be concerned if they discovered their children were gambling.

This sort of acceptance has fueled the problem with gambling today. Gambling has recently become widely popular in the United States. When ESPN began airing the World Series of Poker a few years ago to television audiences, several other networks followed. These broadcasts have turned gambling in the "hot" thing to do

"You have all these television shows now with role models, celebrities, rappers, movie stars playing poker," says Lia Nower, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Saint Louis. "This has made gambling a very sexy activity in which to engage."

Now there's even a channel - The Poker Channel - dedicated solely to airing gambling.

In addition, underage gamblers have easier access to the addictive games than ever before. Internet gambling sites are prevalent and allow teens to gamble alone or in privacy. Although casinos prohibit gamblers under 21, internet sites cannot enforce the law. Some gamble online for several hours a day without their parents ever knowing.

-Problems - Studies have shown that most adults with gambling problems began gambling in their teen years. But what's wrong with a game of underage poker every now and then? Well, aside from the fact that it's illegal, gambling has an abundance of negative side effects.

Adolescent gamblers are more likely to be involved in criminal activities than their non-gambling peers. Also, they are at greater risk for suicide, usually have low self esteem, show decreased academic performance, develop relationship problems, and tend to be depressed.

Gambling usually starts out innocent. Most teens begin to gamble for excitement, entertainment, and money. But that doesn't mean it's any less dangerous. Many teens end up gambling to get away from problems or case depression.

"For many gambling can grow from an occasional social activity to a compulsion," says Bob Vietro, clinical director of Positive Directions: The Center for Prevention and Recovery. "Kids get obsessed and it can become a lifelong problem. It's an addictive behavior."

That addiction is twice as great for teens as it is for adults. When the addiction leads to lifestyle changes such as borrowing money, frequent mood swings, and neglecting family and friends, something has to give.

-Solution - So, what's the cure for the underage gambling epidemic? Awareness. Many teens engage in gambling without knowing the dangers of the games. Television gambling programs never show the negative side effects of gambling, which can result in millions of deceived viewers.

By the time underage gamblers become addicted, many don't understand what has happened and fall out of touch with reality.

Parents need to talk with their kids about the dangers gambling just like drugs and alcohol. But most neglect to address the issue. Most importantly, teens need to evaluate their choice when they decide to gamble, and ask themselves, "Is it really worth it?"

Help Is Available
If you feel you or someone you know has a gambling problem, call

Your toll-free call to 1-888-BETSOFF can put you in touch with people who understand your situation and can refer you to free treatment in your area.

Compulsive gambling is a behavior disorder in which an individual has an uncontrollable preoccupation and urge to gamble. This results in excessive gambling, the outcome of which is loss of time and money.

The gambling reaches the point at which it compromises, disrupts or destroys the gambler's personal life, family relationships or vocational pursuits. The key signs are emotional dependence on gambling, loss of control and interference with normal functioning.