Upping the ante - Risky gambling

May 15, 2007|by SARAH JOHNSTON

When you step out of your house on a Friday evening, headed for a party, what do your parents worry about? Underage drinking? Drug abuse? Date rape?

What about teen gambling?

In recent years, poker parties have become the social event: According to the University of Denver's Problem Gambling Treatment and Research Center (PGTRC), on any given week, 2.9 million Americans between the ages of 14 and 22 gamble while playing cards. With the release of "Casino Royale," the stylish 2006 James Bond blockbuster, and the broadcast of posh celebrity poker tournaments, poker has enthralled a new generation of players.

While a few hands of Texas Hold 'Em might seem harmless, the possible repercussions of gambling are far from fun.

The PGTRC estimates that 4 percent to 8 percent of teens are problem gamblers, while another 10 percent to 14 percent of teens are at risk of developing a serious gambling problem. Classified as an impulse control disorder, problem gambling is characterized by the inability to refrain from gambling activities, leading to severe personal or social consequences.


Yet 61 percent of teens that gamble do so with parental permission. An Oregon youth gambling survey found that of the 2,479 teens queried, 64 percent said they gamble at home, and 48 percent said they gamble at the home of a friend or family member. According to a story in the March 18, 2005, editions of USA Today, many parents view poker parties as safe alternatives to more dangerous diversions and find comfort in knowing that their child is in a safe, controlled, often supervised, environment.

Joanna Franklin, president of the Maryland Council on Compulsive Gambling Inc., perceives a lack of awareness among the parents of teen gamblers.

"Parents say, 'What's the big deal?'" Franklin said. "The big deal is that your child can lose more than he can afford, his grades can take a nose dive, he can isolate his friends and family. It's a long downward spiral."

California's Office of Problem Gambling notes a correlation between problem gambling and other high-risk behaviors, such as substance abuse, and reports high rates of depression and suicide among problem gamblers. Studies indicate that many pathological gamblers - those individuals suffering most severely from a gambling addiction - commit crimes in order to finance gambling. Teens with serious gambling problems have admitted to stealing from family, friends, and workplace in order to feed their habit, according to the California office.

Local teenagers were contacted about this story but did not wish to participate in an interview, even anonymously. They did, however, confirm that, at local teen poker parties, the buy-in amount to participate in a game is less than the price of a movie ticket. With the stakes set low, is this an acceptable form of entertainment? It's not, according to the Maryland State Attorney's Office.

"In the state of Maryland, gambling is illegal unless a specific allowance is made," said Washington County Deputy State's Attorney Joseph Michael. Under state law, it is illegal to gamble for money with playing cards, regardless of one's age. "If you are prosecuted under the age of 18, the penalty is at the discretion of the juvenile court system. The penalties for teen gambling range from probation to commitment outside one's home."

When amusement becomes addiction

At what point does the pleasure of gambling become an addiction? Joanna Franklin, president of the Maryland Council on Compulsive Gambling Inc., cites this tell-tale sign: "When gambling is no longer fun."

The International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors offers the following self-quiz for teens.

· Do you often find yourself thinking about gambling activities and/or planning the next time you will play?

· Do you need to spend more and more money on gambling activities to get the same level of excitement?

· Do you become restless, tense, fed-up or bad-tempered when trying to cut down on or stop gambling?

· Do you ever gamble to escape or forget problems?

· After losing money on gambling activities, do you ever return another day to try and win your money back?

· Have you lied to your family and friends about your gambling?

· Have you spent your lunch or transportation money on gambling activities?

· Have you taken money from someone you live with, without their knowledge, in order to gamble?

· Have you stolen money from outside the family or shoplifted in order to gamble?

· Have you experienced problems with members of your family, or close friends, because of your gambling?

· Have you missed school or work in order to participate in gambling experiences?

· Have you ever had to ask for help because of your gambling?

If you answered "yes" to several of these questions, you might have a gambling problem. Teens seeking help can call the National Council on Problem Gambling's 24-hour, confidential help line. The toll-free number is 800-522-4700.

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