“We will face, in the next decade or so, more problems with youth gambling than we will face with drug use.”-- Howard Shaffer, Director, Harvard Medical School Center for Addiction Studies
Public officials promoting expanded legalized gambling should pause, do some independent homework and re-think the consequences. Independent studies consistently demonstrate long term costs easily outweigh short term benefits by $3 to $1. (Gambling in America-Costs and Benefits by Earl Grinols, 2004-summary on line)
The costs of expanded gambling include increases in crime, bankruptcy and addictions of all kinds. And the existing, serious, under-recognized youth gambling problems will worsen
The National Gambling Impact Study Commission (NGISC-1999) provided evidence that more money is spent on college campuses on gambling than on alcohol. They cite a study by former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger that minors as young as 9 years old were able to purchase lottery tickets 80% of their attempts, 60% of minors were able to place bets on Keno machines and 75% of high school seniors report having played the lottery. The Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery reports 80% of those between 12 and 17 say they have gambled in the last 12 months and 35% report they gamble at least once a week. Robert Goodman, in The Luck Business (1996), reported evidence that gambling is the fastest growing teenage addiction, with the rate of pathological gambling twice that of adults. A McGill University review of the literature (Youth Gambling Problems-2005-on line) cites research revealing adolescent problem gambling leads to delinquency, alcohol use, criminal behavior, depression and suicide. They confirm that 4% to 8% of adolescents (compared to 1% to 3% for adults) have very serious gambling problems, while another 10 to 15% are at risk. These statistics are alarming.
Problem gambling has become legitimized, destigmatized and is socially invisible. Gambling addiction, unlike smoking and alcohol use, is promoted by government. Increases in gambling opportunities, will double the number of problem gamblers, according to a study done by the NGISC. (p.4-4)
Internet gambling activities exemplify the most dangerous aspect of gambling, especially youth gambling. It places electronic gambling at every school desk, work station and living room. (The US International Gambling Report, John Kindt editor, 2008) cites research on the dangerous link between gambling sites and video games, alleging the internet gambling system target markets children and teens with “free” video games. (p. 55). In a 2005 Media Awareness Network (MNet) survey, 23% of male students in grades 10 and 11 reported visiting a gambling internet site in the past year. Of particular concern is the special attraction to youth of on line sports wagering.
The NGISC unanimously recommended legislation to ban internet gambling. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act Legislation of 2006 was passed, with the support of 49 of State Attorney Generals. Despite this, and Attorney General Eric Holder’s commitment to enforce it, Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank has filed a bill to repeal it. (Kindt p. 53)
Public officials unwittingly accept the distorted message that the economics of gambling will support educational funding. In most states, legislators reduced educational allotments from the general fund by about the same amount raised through gambling revenues. Gambling ultimately destabilizes the economy. (Kindt, p. 135 and 43)
The school’s greatest problem with the “casino culture” is a conflict in thinking, behaving and values. Schools are expected to foster student attitudes that are not about luck, materialism, winning and instant gratification but about equal opportunity, doing the best you can (win, lose or draw), sharing, hard work, financial responsibility and long term thinking. Maladaptive behaviors, as well as adaptive behaviors, are learned from family, friends, school teachers and the cultural values of the environment. Youth learn to gamble in the same ways they learn to smoke, to drink, to over eat or to acquire any other self defeating behavior.
Young people today are the first generation to grow up with video games, computers and in an environment in which gambling has been legal their entire life. They are particularly vulnerable to its lure. Public officials should not minimize this.
Tom Larkin is a retired Boston School Psychologist and SMART Recovery Facilitator.
July 23, 2009