Youth Gambling is on the Rise

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How can parents talk to their children about the dangers of gambling?

 By Olivia Spadafora, BRiDGES


(Canastota, NY – April 2014) Gambling is more accessible today than ever before. Media sources such as movies, television shows, and others portray gambling as a fun way to make easy money. What they do not show is the addiction that this behavior can turn into. Studies have shown that the earlier a child begins participating in risky behaviors, such as gambling, the more likely they are to develop problematic behaviors. Only 13% of parents believe that their children gamble for money; however, studies in New York have shown that 68% of youth between the ages of 14 and 21 reported having gambled in the last year, while 11% admit to gambling twice a week or more.

Parents may initially think, “How can my child possibly be gambling? He or she is not even of age.” While many youth gamblers are in fact under age, gambling opportunities are everywhere. Though the child may not enter a casino to gamble, there are plenty of opportunities to gamble on the computer, in grocery stores, in gas stations, and even on their smart phones. In addition to the vast opportunities to gamble, images of gambling can also reinforce the behavior by appearing in internet ads, cell phone ads, and on television. Be aware of the websites that your child is visiting, as well as the apps that they have downloaded onto their smart phone.

Warning signs of gambling in youth include: low mood or feelings of anxiety, lying, cheating, stealing, unexplained absences from school, and less time spent with family or friends. Consequences of youth gambling include: dropping grades, loss of friends, loss of trust and/or respect, deteriorating health, mental health issues, and destroyed reputation.

In order to prevent problem gambling in youth, parents should start talking to their children sooner rather than later. Parents should also let their child know that they are available to talk whenever they need. If a child feels comfortable talking to their parent, they will be more likely to express issues, including urges to gamble. Remember that youth learn from example; if your child sees you gambling excessively, they may believe that this is normal behavior.

This may be an uncomfortable topic for parents to discuss with children, so try to let the conversation happen naturally. For example, start the conversation during a commercial that encourages gambling or when discussing knowledge of someone winning or losing a sum of money due to gambling. Listen to what your child has to say, do they have any interest in gambling? Do they mention friends who gamble? Do they believe that gambling is not a harmful behavior? Also remember to be specific when talking about gambling, mixed messages will not help the child to understand what you are telling them. Remember to be patient when discussing this topic; it may take a few tries to get your point across. But most importantly, do not give up! They will understand if you continue to reinforce your point.

For more information on youth gambling prevention, visit or call 1-877-8-HOPENY.


1 comment to Youth Gambling is on the Rise

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    My name is Arnie Wexler and I have been the President of Arnie and Sheila Wexler Associates since 1994. We do training’s, educational seminars, consultations, evaluations and treatment services for, and about compulsive gambling Internationally. We have trained over 40,000 casino workers on gambling addiction. I am a recovering compulsive gambler and placed my last bet on April 10, 1968 and know what kind of destruction compulsive gambling can do to the compulsive gambler, their family and everyone else they come in contact with. I think it is important to state that I am not a prohibitionist. My only objective is to help compulsive gamblers and their families.

    I have been involved in trying to raise public awareness on this issue for over 45 years. In 1972 I became a member of the Board of Directors of the National Council on Compulsive Gambling. I served in this capacity until 1991. From 1986-94. I was the Executive Director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey. From 1982 I have run 2 national help lines for gamblers I believe that I have spoken to more compulsive gamblers than anyone else in America during the last 45 years.

    45 years ago I was in what is referred to as the Desperation Phase of Compulsive Gambling. I was 30 years old, married with 2 children. I was in debt for the amount of three times my annual salary. I owed two finance companies, three banks, loan sharks and bookmakers and family, friends and co- workers for a total of thirty-two people. I had just written a check to a stock brokerage firm for $4400.00 (to purchase stocks) and all I had was $10 in my account. I thought about suicide on a daily basis, but never had enough guts to carry it out.

    I was a plant manager for a Fortune 500 company, supervising 400+ people and committing illegal acts to support my gambling addiction every day. Even in this phase I came to work every day in a suit and tie since my addiction was not visible to the untrained eye.

    My experience is not unique. Most compulsive gamblers have similar tales to tell. They have lost relationships, careers, and educational pursuits. Their obsession to gamble is all encompassing and they are unable to think about anything else in life, even though they may still appear to be functioning normally. Most of their waking hours are spent in trying to find the money with which to place another bet. Many at this stage of their addiction are committing illegal acts to support their gambling. A large percentage of embezzlements and white collar crimes are caused by compulsive gamblers. It is not unusual to see major corporations being ripped off by their employees who need money to gamble. This especially effects brokerage firms, banks and insurance companies and lawyers who dip into their trust funds.

    The American Psychiatric Association recognizes a diagnosis of Pathological Gambling since 1980. Dr. Bob Custer (the founder of compulsive gambling treatment) once described compulsive gamblers in the Desperation Phase as people who had lost all hope, were severely depressed, felt helpless and alone. It is at this stage that many gamblers feel that the only way out is suicide.

    As my wife and I have traveled the country and


    we have met thousands of people who were brought to their knees as the result of compulsive gambling. Some had lost their family farms and businesses in places like North Dakota and Minnesota. Others talked about embezzlements or white collar crimes by employees who had a gambling problem. In Mississippi, we heard about suicides and bank robberies that were occurring from the time that legalized gambling began in their state. There is a woman in Louisiana who killed her parents in order to collect insurance money so she could continue playing video poker. I remember the call from a 14 year old girl, who was selling drugs in order to support her gambling addiction, and the 19 year old who was selling her body. I remember working with a major league baseball player who made $800,000 and couldn’t pay a gambling debt of $25,000. There is an ex Quarterback who played in the NFL, who is now incarcerated because of writing bad checks in order to support his gambling addiction. I know of many cases of people who are in federal prison because of a gambling addiction.

    In April of 1997, in Bridge City, Louisiana, a young woman who was baby- sitting a 2 year old boy, left him locked in her van while she played video poker. When she returned to her van after several hours, the boy was comatose and was rushed to a hospital. He died the next day. In August of 1997, I heard about a Sgt. in the US Army, from Hunter Army Airfield, in Savannah, Georgia, who left her 10 week old infant in the car while she played video poker for 7 and 1/2 hours straight. The baby was found dead.

    There is a man on death row in New Jersey because he contracted to have his wife killed in order to collect on her 1.5 million dollar life insurance. At the time he was in debt due to gambling.

    I recently came across one of the most horrifying stories I had ever read. It was about a 19 year old college student from New York, who couldn’t cope with a gambling debt of $6000(betting on the world series). He purchased a toy gun and led police on a car chase. When approached he pulled his toy gun and was killed by the unsuspecting police officer. He left suicide notes to his family and to the policeman.

    The classic case of a suicide is the case of a Somerset County Prosecutor in NJ who embezzled money for gambling from his partners in a business venture and was to be sentenced for his crime when he fled the state of New Jersey. He ended up in a Nevada hotel where he shot himself to death.

    In my opinion, even one suicide due to compulsive gambling is too many. I have personally known more than a dozen compulsive gamblers who have resorted to suicide and know many more who have attempted suicide. Statistics may be low in assessing suicides in gambling towns due to the fact that many people return to their hometowns before committing the act.

    Compulsive gambling is cutting across all segments of society, today in America. I have spoken in many colleges over the years and found a very large percentage of students are gambling both legally, and illegally. More than 10% already have a gambling problem. I’ve dealt with many students and student athletes who have had a gambling problem, including relatives who paid off large amounts of gambling debts. There has been a tremendous rise in the numbers of young people seeking help in the last few years do to gambling addiction to poker.

    I think it would be very educational for every one to read the three part series in Sports Illustrated on “The Campus Gambling Epidemic”, dated April 3, 10 and 17th of 1995.

    Senior citizens are another segment of the population who are reporting a considerable increase in problem gambling. There are countless sad stories about people in this age group becoming addicted to various forms of gambling in their golden years.

    Female gamblers are coming out of the woodwork, reporting a compulsive gambling problem. There are more female compulsive gamblers seeking help, today, than ever before in the history of this country. In the last 4 years I testified for 3 women in Florida who have got put into jail for gambling addiction from 5 years to 17 years. Just two weeks ago in Ft Lauderdale court I testified for a ladie addicted to gambling.

    This country is exploding with a major compulsive gambling epidemic. There are more active compulsive gamblers in this country today, than ever before in our history. State Legislators are constantly adding more legalized gambling opportunities without even addressing those constituents who are, or will become, compulsive gamblers. . States are spending millions to advertise and promote lotteries. You see TV ads where a Governor holds up lottery tickets and tells the citizens of their state to buy lottery tickets in order to help the state. Can you imagine the uproar if a Governor went on TV and held up a bottle of alcohol telling the citizens to buy alcohol because the state makes money from the sale?

    For years people were going to jail for running illegal numbers in the streets and today the states are running the same type of operations except it is now legal because the state gets a percentage of the money.

    How many times have you been in a convenience store and watched a parent rub off lottery tickets in front of their young child? What kind of message are we sending our youth? Are we telling them that they don’t need to pursue an education, but rather aspire to winning the lottery?

    For years I’ve heard State Legislators and Lottery Commissioners deny that compulsive gamblers have problems with playing the lottery. Lotteries are enticing people to buy lottery tickets. It’s very easy for a youngster to purchase a lottery ticket today as they are even sold in vending mi chines . It might be easier than buying a can of beer or a pack of cigarettes.

    If the states really cared about their citizens they would cap the prize at $1 million, so more people could win. However, they like the big jackpots because they know that people tend to spend more than they intended to in order to win them. I’ve heard from many lottery players, over the years, who have embezzled money to finance their lottery gambling.

    Although compulsive gamblers are known to gamble on almost any form of gambling, many prefer casino type gambling because it is fast action. I have serious concerns about underage gambling, how free drinks are handled and policies regarding markers and credit. When casinos offer “comps” to a compulsive gambler they fuel their fantasy and sometimes push the compulsive gambler over the edge.

    The wall street journal 10/11/13 stated that “Some casinos get 90% of their revenue from 10% of their customers”

    We know that the % of casino workers are at greater risk for compulsive gambling problems. even greater then the general public

    When it comes to a discussion about treatment for compulsive gambling, it is a sad fact that there is so little available throughout this country. Gamblers Anonymous and Gamanon have offered much help to compulsive gamblers and their family.

    In recent years (due to the availability of gambling activities) many new chapters of GA and Gamanon have started.

    Before casino came to nj in 1978 there were 15 meetings of gamblers anonymous with in 4 years that # was over 50 meetings

    There are many gamblers and family members who require the additional services of professional counselors. We trained the staff at Sierra Tucson, in Tucson Arizona, Betty Ford Center, Care Florida and Recovery Road and many others to add compulsive gambling treatment to their existing services. We continue to act as consultants to them in the area of compulsive gambling treatment. Most of the available facilities are private, and unfortunately most insurance companies do not cover treatment for compulsive gambling. Obviously when most gamblers are ready and/or willing to go to treatment, they have run out of finances( and so have most of their family members) that would afford them this needed help.

    Many compulsive gamblers go undiagnosed. In a study done by UMDNJ (University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey) it was found that 22-26% of those patients being admitted to an out – patient mental health setting also had a compulsive gambling problem.

    I see the gambling industry, today, where the cigarette industry was ten years ago. People in this country are beginning to recognize that there are some negative consequences to the gambling that has proliferated across America.

    We now know that the existence of compulsive gambling is not just fiction, but fact. We may not know the exact numbers of people afflicted with this problem, but we know that it is millions of Americans. I think the time has come for the gambling industry and state legislators to take their heads out of the sand and address these crucial issues that affect peoples’ live.

    Very few people in this country speak for, or about, compulsive gambling issues. Part of the problem is there is still shame and embarrassment even from recovering compulsive gamblers, and they lack resources to carry the message about this problem.

    The time has come for elected officials in this country to stop ignoring compulsive gambling issues, as this is an issue that effects millions of Americans and their families. As a nation, we need to deal with it in the same manner as we deal with alcoholism and drug addiction.


    I hope that what I have said will help you to better understand the seriousness of the problem of compulsive gambling.



    That any state, company or individual operating a gambling related business should be mandated to have a Responsible Gaming Policy and staff trainings on it.
    It is not sufficient, however, to have a policy written exclusively from within the company. It should be necessary to have input from qualified persons who have the expertise on the subject of compulsive gambling and to use this expertise to develop a legitimate responsible gambling program.

    That anyone who works in the gaming field must have the education on the subject of compulsive gambling.

    All gambling advertisements include a hot line number (such as 888-LAST BET).

    Insurance companies should be mandated to pay for treatment of compulsive gambling.

    All gaming companies should pay for compulsive gambling treatment for their employees and family members.

    Any state or municipality that receives revenue from gambling should be required to put a percentage of that revenue in a fund that would pay for treatment services, education, awareness and prevention regarding compulsive gambling.

    Health professionals should have training on the subject of compulsive gambling.

    Any new or expanded gaming legislation should include a component to deal with compulsive gambling issues.

    Anyone incarcerated for a crime related to compulsive gambling issues should receive education and treatment, while incarcerated. Gamblers Anonymous meetings should be made available.

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