“We don’t want them to gamble at all, but we say,`If you’re going to gamble, gamble wisely,’” Amanda Winters, problem gambling administrator for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, told the news service Stateline in its report this week. “And know when to stop.”
She wasn’t talking about adult gamblers; she was talking about students in middle school and high school who’d participated in North Carolina’s Stacked Deck program, which teaches students about the history of gambling, probability theory, and other aspects of betting.
Although gambling is only legal in most states at either age 18 or 21, the National Council on Problem Gambling reports that the rate of high school students with a gambling problem is double that of adults. The council’s research has found about 5% of students between the ages of 11 and 17 meet at least one of the criteria for a gambling problem, such as experiencing a rush when wagering or continuing to play even when they’re losing consistently. Furthermore, between 60% and 80% of high school students said they’d gambled for money in the past year, according to the NCPG.
Despite minors’ relative vulnerability, only Virginia has a state law requiring public schools to teach students about the dangers of gambling. (There are a handful of privately run programs in places like North Carolina and Wisconsin, but they’re not state-mandated.)
“A lot of youth don’t think of gambling as a problem. They don’t think it’s a risky behavior,” Heather Eshleman, prevention manager at the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling, told Stateline. “They say the stores don’t card if they try to buy a lottery ticket. And nobody talks about it — not their doctor, not their school. They’ve never heard messages in those settings.”
And while children are exposed to gambling ads on their phones and by other means, “the vast majority of American kids never receive a focused message on the dangers of gambling addiction,” NCPG Executive Director Keith Whyte told Stateline.
‘What’s the hesitation?’
Whyte sees the Virginia law as a step in the right direction, but in April he told Sports Handle that he felt it wasn’t ideal, since it doesn’t specify a funding source.
“It’s a little bit of an unfunded mandate, which probably means in a couple years we’ll have to pass it again with funding,” he said at the time. “And that means it could get sidelined, but gambling addiction gets sidelined anyway. It sets a precedent, though. If we’re able to show impact or a lack of impact, that just creates a better argument. Virginia is making millions and millions. We can find the money.”
Maryland Sen. Bryan Simonaire, a Republican who’s tried and failed to get youth gambling education legislation passed in his state for three consecutive sessions, would welcome such a predicament. So, too, would Sean Hornbuckle, a West Virginia legislator and professional financial advisor who failed to win passage of a bill that would have established a pilot program to teach about problem gambling in high school financial literacy classes.
“We’ve been stonewalled,” Hornbuckle told Sports Handle in April. “For what reason? I can’t tell you, honestly. My bill did not leave committee. They didn’t even discuss it. It’s one of those things that there can be no harm from it. So the question is, what’s the hesitation?”