Terri Rodriguez Ohlms, M.S.W., L.C.S.W., BCD
The Connecticut Clearinghouse, Wheeler Clinic, Inc. funded by Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) reported that “Kids and teenagers have always gambled, whether at marbles or flipping baseball cards. Some teens wager on sports, lotteries, jai alai matches, horse and dog races, card playing, as well as at bingo, casinos and video gaming machines. Opportunities to gamble are everywhere, and access is increasing. Some students gamble regularly, while as many a 85 percent have tried their hand at some form of gambling.”
According to Chris Armentano, Director of Compulsive Gambling Treatment Program of DMHAS, “For some teens gambling becomes a part of their identity. Gambling stimulates a FALSE image of a special, adequate or unique self. This image often stands in contrast to an underlying self image that is unimportant, inadequate and less than ordinary." Nelson Rose suggested that in each school, there are students known as gamblers. He reports that they are the ones who would “rather go to jai alai than go on a date, run football or world series pools, are sought out for gambling information or to place bets. They might be good students, athletes, in the center of things or on the fringe. They might be outcasts who seek out gambling for escape and to be with other “losers.” They may use gambling in combination with alcohol and other drugs to feel good."
Gipta and Derevnsky of Canada claim that today’s adolescents are the first to live their entire lives in a society of legalized gambling. Gambling opportunities are available at local corner stores, restaurants and bars. Lotteries, pulltabs, sports betting and casinos have become part of everyday life for many people. Although it remains illegal for minors to gamble on most government-regulated activities, the willingness of gambling operators to turn a blind eye to juvenile gambling, given the large revenues generated, results in children and adolescents becoming very much a part of the industry.
In Missouri, the minimum legal age to place a bet in lottery, pari-mutuel betting, charity bingo and pull-tabs is 18. For casinos and slot machines it is 21. Do you know what the legal age for betting is in your state?
The commonly accepted definition of problem gambling is “a level of gambling that creates problems for the gambler and his/her family.” The level of gambling may interfere with personal relationships, school or work and may include diversion of funds needed for other purchases to the gambling activity. Furthermore, the adolescent may incur debts of substantial amounts to continue the activity.
Motives for gambling as reported by adolescents include relaxation, enjoyment, excitement, entertainment, adventure, attention, opportunity and negative feelings. The typical teen gambler is reported likely to come from homes where gambling is a conspicuous activity, successful, motivated, intelligent (with an IQ of 115 to 120+), competitive, with a history of good to excellent school performance, where alcohol/substance abuse has not been regular behavior. The teen may have abandoned hobbies and extracurricular activities, or he/she may be a perfectionist, easily bored in social settings, looking for new situations to keep up feelings and hold high expectations of self and others.
Indicators of problem gambling in teens can be any of the following:
- withdrawal from the family
- excessive TV sports watching
- increased irritability or hostility
- lying concerning whereabouts
- overly excited or upset at games' outcomes
- interest in non-allegiance sports teams
- unusual devotion to sports-results periodicals
- uncharacteristic phone usage
- absence from school or classes
- tardiness to school
- drop in school grades
- unexplained need for money
- borrowing money from family and friends
- exaggerated display of money and other possessions
- missing valuables from home
- frequent cards/dice games at home
- late night calls
- gambling paraphernalia
- 1-900 phone numbers
- phone charges to sports-results scales
- lottery tickets
- betting slips
Severe gambling problems originate during the pre-teen and adolescent years or younger, and parents often serve as role models for gambling. Parents' preferences may also dictate the types of gambling in which teens participate. In fact, teens may be involved in any of the following, according to preferences:
- card playing
- lottery tickets
- bingo sports pool
- electronic gambling devices
- sports lottery tickets
- games of skill
Not surprisingly, most 9–14-year-olds gamble in their homes with their families. Although youth seem to be aware that gambling is primarily driven by luck, they also believe they can exert meaningful amounts of skill while gambling, endorsing the “illusion of control.” The most reported reason was for the enjoyment and excitement it provides.
Adolescent pathological and social gamblers have basic differences, stemming from whether the behavior is part of the gambler’s integrated activity or rather an all-consuming obsession. For instance, pathological gamblers are more likely to have a parent who gambles excessively, and gambling makes the pathological gambler feel more important than his or her non-pathological peers. Also, pathological gamblers report borrowing money to finance their gambling habits and more engagement in illegal acts such as stealing. Pathological gamblers express a preoccupation with the “when and how” of the next gambling event.
Treatment requires a psychiatric evaluation ruling out biochemical addictions, impulse control disorders, bi-polar disorder, hypomanic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anti-social personality disorder. There may be need for psychotropic medications such as SSRIs or mood stabilizers.
A cognitive-behavioral counseling strategy focusing on reality therapy is highly recommended along with required abstinence of mood-altering drugs, especially if biochemical addictions are present and attendance at self-help support groups is for a lasting recovery. The teens must be taught the following “Healthy Decision Making Process” and will need to reframe their “illusion of control” beliefs.
Five Steps of Decision Making
1. Identify the Problem.
2. Consider all possible solutions.
3. Consider the consequences for each possible solution.
4. Select one healthy solution and act on it.
5. Evaluate the results of the solution. Will it be selected in the future?
Considering the Consequences of Decision Making
1. Some decisions are easier than others.
2. Some decisions carry more consequences than others.
3. The consequences of some decisions can hurt.
4. Some decisions make you feel good.
5. Sometimes you cannot make decisions alone.
Evaluating a Solution
1. Was this a good solution for everyone?
2. Was this solution worth the resources needed?
3. Was anything learned that can be applied to other problems?
4. Were goals reached, if any?
5. Would this solution be selected again?
The following illusions of control beliefs are growing among adults and are being passed onto our youth. Examine your thinking and see how realistic it is.
Has your belief system also been affected by the “Hustling” (gaming) industry?
One day I’m going to strike it rich by winning the lottery.
I think I have the power to will my numbers to come up.
To win at gambling, one must think positive thoughts.
If I concentrate hard enough, I can affect the results of the slots.
I need to win enough money at gambling to balance my budget.
If I really want to get ahead, I need to win money at gambling.
Winning is important to me.
I wouldn’t mind losing $100 because I can win it back.
I can beat the system if I study it enough.
I need to adopt the right system to win.
I can beat the casino if I can learn its
This feature: Paradigm, Spring 2000