Teen Gambling: If you’re a parent, you probably can conceive of far worse things than having your teen – or even a pre-teen – sitting in the family room, gathered around a table, playing cards with his or her friends. At least you know where the kid is, you think; the child isn’t in trouble, isn’t doing drugs, and isn’t in some back alley somewhere doing God knows what. You relax, assured that for the time being, all is well.
If that describes you, you may want to stop reading now.
Oh, certainly, some of what you think there is correct. There certainly are worse pursuits your child could be engaging in. For the time being, you are comfortable in the fact that the worst thing that could happen is that one of the teens gets excited and spills soda all over the carpet or utters a prohibited word.
But is that the most serious thing? Or are you unbothered by the idea that you may one day have to drive your son or daughter to Gamblers’ Anonymous meetings more frequently than you take her or him to a local sports game?
Without any attempt at hyperbole, this is exactly the situation many parents today face as school age children, some as young as 10 or earlier, are not only engaging in a friendly card game. At such games, they often wager serious amounts of cash (kitties of $100, $200 and even $500 are not uncommon), spend more hours per week dealing cards than doing schoolwork, and react to the end of a great winning streak with the same devastation as they might the messy decline of their first love relationship.
In some U.S. states, the percentage of school age children identified as gamblers in trouble exceeds – and sometimes even doubles – the number of adults with the same classification. Children represent the fastest growing population of problem bettors, spurred on they say by the dominance of Internet casinos and the popularity of poker matches televised on a number of networks, including ESPN and A&E.
Not only are they holding these “friendly” but no less high stakes poker games at home as well as going online to participate in games of chance, many regularly visit casinos in their areas. While most casinos operate with age limits (age 18 in some places and 21 in others), many kids claim they are able to get in as frequently as once or twice per day.
“I’ve never, ever been carded at a casino,” says Mike, a 17-year-old who easily looks like he is not yet out of grade school. He reports that he went to his first casino offshore in Mississippi before his 15th birthday, on a holiday trip to visit his grandparents who took him along. After he returned home, with nearly $500 extra in his pocket, he found it even easier to get into casinos close to where he lived.
“At my favorite place, they even had a little room just for younger card players. About all they ever did was ask, ‘You’re old enough, right?’ Nobody challenged me when I said I was twenty and nobody asked for my ID.”
Bekka Ronan from Washington state cites a similar experience. Until her freshman year of college when her advisor realized something was wrong, Bekka says she spent most of three years in both legal and illegal gambling parlors. She states her parents, happy that she was not doing drugs or engaging in other behavior, seemed blissfully unaware of how frequently money went missing from their wallets or a credit card disappeared. Even when she began taking items from her grandmother’s townhouse to sell to finance her gambling, she says no one confronted her. On average, she says she spent about $300 a week gaming, but figures she may have won a bit more overall than she lost.
After months in both individual as well as group counseling, Bekka reports it continues to be very difficult not to gamble. She has lapsed at least a half dozen times, and nearly got caught in a raid on an illegal poker tournament that ended up with two of her friends going to court on charges.
“I smoked for two years,” Bekka adds, “and as tough as quitting that habit was, it’s nothing like no longer being able to play cards. I can’t just do a card game; it has to be for money and its dead serious for me.”