Wisconsin Teenagers Are Among the Most Vulnerable to Gambling Addiction

Teenagers today have the world in the palm of their hands.  Literally.  Smart phones, laptops, tablets and any devices that access the internet makes just about anything in any part of the world at their disposal.  The good, the bad and the ugly.

The internet exposes children to gambling well before they’re 18 – they encounter ads for gambling in emails, pop up ads and online advertising. These ads send the message that gambling is fun and exciting, that the chance of winning is high, and that gambling is a legitimate way to get rich quick.

According to Raising Children Network, about a third of adult problem gamblers who seek treatment started gambling when they were 11-17 years old.

The gambling industry spends millions of advertising dollars portraying gambling as a family friendly, government sanctioned, wholesome source of entertainment.   They call it “gaming” to disguise its ugly reality.  There are more than 3000 online gambling websites worldwide, including casinos and sites for betting on sport and racing. Teenagers can also gamble without money on phone and Facebook apps. And more than 100 video games rated as suitable for children have gambling themes and content.

Approximately 4-5% of youth, ages 12-17, meet one or more criteria of having a gambling problem. Another 10-14% are at risk of developing an addiction, which means that they already show signs of losing control over their gambling behavior.  (Read more here).

Couple that with the fact that the part of the brain that associates behavior to consequence is not fully developed until the age of 25, and then pile on top the heavy advertising and exposure to gambling teens face, and you’ve just created the perfect storm.

Proximity matters.  A study published by John W. Welte of the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions indicates the chance of becoming a gambling addict doubles if you live within 10 miles of a casino.  According to the study, someone living within 10 miles has a 7 percent risk of becoming a problem gambler — as defined by particular behavior patterns — compared to an approximately 3.5 percent risk among those 10 or more miles away.

Wisconsin has 11 (eleven) tribes which feature 24 gaming facilities. Yet there are two new off-reservation gaming facilities being proposed:  in Shullsburg and Beloit.  As teenagers become of legal age in Wisconsin, they have no more than a 2 hour drive to get to the nearest casino.

Casinos don’t offer a future for our youth.  They most certainly aren’t going to get rich quick by frequenting one.  We need to invest in infrastructure that builds opportunities and a secure future.  Be sure to voice your opposition to the expansion of gambling in Wisconsin by writing letters to the editor of your local newspapers, your local elected officials, your state representatives and the Governor.  Talk to your family and friends.  As we saw in Kenosha, it’s never too late.