Bishop's Blog

Entertainment, Needing Money, Wanting to Win

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

Today’s young people are growing up in Canada with gambling options not only widely available but eagerly and openly advertised and promoted. The long term consequences of this cultural shift are still unknown but for many adolescents gambling is now seen as the new rite of passage.

A study conducted by the Responsible Gambling Council, an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of problem gambling reveals that more than one-third of Ontario teens who participated in the first-ever study to examine the gambling habits of students aged 15 to 17 are already gambling, and their ranks will likely double by the time they're 20.

  • Of the 2,140 teens surveyed, 34.9 per cent said they're already gambling.
  • Of those, 40 per cent said poker is their game of choice, while another 36 per cent admitted to regularly buying raffle tickets, including scratch-and-win lottery tickets.
  • Sports betting was next at 23 per cent, followed by playing dice at 15 per cent and online gambling at 10 per cent.
  • Poker is the most popular form of gambling because of its accessibility, ease of play and recent explosion in popularity.
  • While the majority of teens surveyed cited entertainment as their main reason for gambling, 20.7 per cent said they did it because they needed the money, and 15.3 per cent said it was to win back cash they had already lost.
  • Thirteen per cent of teens who play poker admitted they spend more money than they can afford on gambling.
  • Of those respondents who admitted to gambling, 3.9 per cent said they're already experiencing gambling problems. That number jumps to 6.9 per cent in the case of gamblers aged 18 to 24.

Technology-assisted gambling has ushered in a whole new world. Video lottery terminals (VLTS) with all their colours, lights, sounds and high speed repetition of transactions are such an addictive combination that they have become known as the crack-cocaine of gambling.

Entrepreneurs with an eye for revenue-generating opportunities are bound to seize upon the gambling potential of the Internet, cellphone, interactive TV and videogame gambling. At the moment, online gambling is illegal in Canada but many researchers believe that change is inevitable as governments continue to lose money to offshore gambling sites. The social problems, however, remain localized.

For youth hooked into computer technology, it’s not difficult to find those Internet sites which offer “visitors” the chance to try their hand at such casino-type games as slot machines and blackjack. The 2003 report, “Understanding the Audience: the Key to Preventing Youth Gambling Problems,” strongly suggests that our youth are being groomed to gamble. Wiebe and Falkoski-Ham found that while 10% of the 11-16 year olds reported betting on the Internet, 95% said the site didn’t require a credit card. As the researchers pointed out, although players do not actually have to risk their own money, their wins and losses are displayed in terms of dollars. Essentially, they state, youth are learning to gamble on “adult” games and the long term impact of such sites on later gambling practices remains unknown. Given that young people are much more technology savvy than their parents, this becomes another compelling reasons for putting gambling on the “to-talk-about-and model” agenda with the family.

The International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and His Risk Behaviours website offers the following signs of problem gambling for parents who worry that their children may have a gambling problem:

  1. Spends a lot of time gambling and thinking about gambling.
  2. Misses school or grades start to worsen because of time spent gambling.
  3. Starts to place larger and more frequent bets to maintain interest and excitement produced by gambling.
  4. Experiences mood swings and feels stressed when not gambling regularly or trying to reduce or stop gambling.
  5. Promises to stop or reduce their gambling but has trouble following through with plan.
  6. Lies or is secretive about gambling activities.
  7. Missing personal belongings or cannot cover regular expenses as he/she has used these to finance gambling activities.
  8. Borrows or takes money from family members or friends to gamble.
  9. Keeps on gambling because they believe that he/she can win back their money and then stop.
  10. Gambles as a means to escape or forget their problems.
  11. Family members or friends are concerned that your son/daughter's gambling is becoming serious.

Given the familial and social problems associated with gambling, recent research has emphasized the need to move from a disease model that mainly focuses on gambling as an individual pathology requiring treatment to a public health model that first considers the impact of gambling on community public health and then search for strategies to minimize its impact. Changing attitudes and parental modeling, rather than simply dispensing information, seems to be the critical factor in reducing gambling activity.

R.E. Shay once said: “Depend on the rabbit’s foot if you will, but remember it didn’t work for the rabbit.”.

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

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