Several weeks ago I attended a conference in Reno, Nevada.  When making my plane reservation, I was quite surprised that I would have a three hour layover in Las Vegas.  After a four hour flight,  we finally landed in Vegas! Looking out of my window, I saw some of the posh hotels on the strip and wished that I could visit (I have never visited Vegas before).  As I exited the plane, I was met with the sounds and lights of slot machines and I mean lots of them.  They were on the walls, near the restaurants, and each concourse.  Wow, I thought, this is overwhelming. Living in the South, I have never really been exposed to gambling to this extent (only the lottery and some video poker games in the back of some of the seedier mini-marts) and almost every shop was selling or promoting  gambling.  After my brief stay in Vegas, we finally landed in Reno and headed to our hotel.  I had been in several casinos before, but I had never actually walked through the gambling area. In fact, each time I had to get to the conference area, I had to walk through the casino.  So, whether it was 7:30 in the morning or 11:00 at night, people were gambling, drinking, and smoking (cough, cough, cough).  Each time I passed by my heart ached for those who sat expressionless at the slots sipping on their drinks. While commercials show casino life as exciting and profitable, the majority of these folks looked far from happy. Honestly, many of them looked miserable, disheveled, and lonely.

Casino Reality

Fiction: Harrah’s Come and Play Commercial

Yes, Gambling is an Addiction

Harvard Medical Researcher, Howard J. Shaffer discovered that gambling addiction is the fastest growing addiction among high school and college aged students.  In fact, the American Psychological Association and American Medical Association recognizes pathological gambling as a mental health disorder.  Researchers have found that fast paced gambling has increased the number of Americans with a gambling addiction.  Next time you turn on the television, check out how popular Fantasy Football has become! Unlike past years, gambling entrepreneurs have free reign to take advantage of this group of mentally ill people.

Check out the commercial for Fanduel

Teen Gambling

Dr.  Ken Winters found that this is the first generation of youth exposed to a socially acceptable, but risky form of addiction that is even accessible in the classroom.  Kory Sinha identified several factors that contribute to pathological gambling.  The first set of factors include personality traits which may lead to the development of a gambling problem. These risk factors include impulsivity, ineffective coping mechanisms, antisocial behavior,  and learned helplessness. Other factors include gender (more males than females develop a gambling addiction), influence of the social group  (even in youth), socioeconomic status, family history, and stress. According to the website, College Gambling, an estimated six percent of young people have a gambling problem which is statistically higher than adults. In a report by the University of Minnesota Medical School, many adult gamblers reported that they started gambling at a young age.  Although many believe that gambling is a selfish behavior that can be stopped at anytime, researchers disagree.  Gambling is a serious psychological issue that emerges from the centers of the brain that seek reward and pleasure.  Researchers found that gambling changes the flow of blood to the brain which is similar to the use of cocaine.

While the majority of youth who gamble will not develop an addiction, there is a small segment that will develop this addiction and experience problems in their relationships, school, and families. Unfortunately, many parents view gambling as a socially acceptable activity with little risk; therefore, they introduce their children, as young as 10 years old, to gambling (buying lottery tickets, playing poker, and betting on sports teams).  Since teens are high risk takers, have poor impulse control, and live in the moment, they are often susceptible to addictive behaviors like gambling. Because the majority of teens are technologically literate,  remote gambling, games on internet sites, cell phones, interactive television, and mobile devices, can be highly addictive because they can be played anywhere and are not regulated by any government agency.  This type of gambling may appeal to students who may be shy, feel powerless, and want instant gratification. In addition to remote gambling, other youths may prefer traditional forms of gambling like bingo, cards, sports betting,
playing the lottery, and other skill based activities.  Bringing awareness to students and families about gambling problems and co-occurring issues can be helpful for families facing this little known issue.  Some additional concerns that can emerge from gambling addiction include smoking.  Researchers have found that people who gamble have an increased chance of smoking while gambling which may develop into everyday use.  Also, researchers found that smoking can be a strong reinforcement for gambling behaviors. 

What Can School Counselors Do To Educate Staff, Parents, and Students? 

If you are unaware of the problem of teen gambling, I urge you to view the resources at the bottom of my blog.  Truthfully, this is a new issue for me and a topic that I want to learn more about in the future. If you want to make an impact in your school, think about promoting prevention education to your students.

Suggested Activities for School Counselor:

1. Conduct an in-service for staff to be able to identify sources and signs of youth gambling.

Warning signs of gambling:

Frequent unexplained absences from school.
Sudden drop in grades.
Progressive preoccupation with gambling.
Withdrawal from friends and family.
Changes in behavior.
Lying about gambling behavior.
Unexplained debt.
Borrows money to gamble.

Teens are often opposed to gambling as young as age 10

2.  Show administration the importance of creating policies to handle gambling in schools. This can include policies that discourage gambling type fundraisers (i.e Casino night) and persuade faculty to make referrals to counselor when a student(s) is caught in gambling related activities. If administration is reluctant, ask if gambling awareness information can be given to parents and teens.

Source:  Problem Gambling Prevention

3.  Provide education to PTO and parent groups.

4.  Encourage teachers to include gambling awareness in their classes (math-statistics, civics-societal costs, health-addiction).

5. Share the Myths and Facts about gambling with teens starting in lower grades.

6. Assess teen gambling by using a self assessment like Out of Luck , a gambling assessment for youth.

7. Help students identify risk and protective factors.  Also think about posting the 10 Rules to Responsible Gambling posters around your school.

8. Think about joining the holiday campaign to make parents aware of exposing their youth to gambling (like buying them lottery tickets).

I hope this post has been insightful in exposing the issue of teen gambling addiction.  Please check out the following resources for more information.


Lessons, posters, flyers

Know the Odds: Youth Gambling EBook
Talking to Youth About Gambling 
Youth Decide NY: Gambling Facts Posters
Youth Decide NY: Gambling Facts Sheet
Youth Decide NY: Did You Know Brochure
Youth Decide NY: Fact or Fiction Poster
Problem Gambling Prevention Lessons

Self Screeners

DSM 5 Diagnostic Criteria-Gambling Disorder
Self Screening Tool

College Gambling

College Gambling: Play It Safe


International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems
Gambling Laws in the US
Help and Treatment by State
Gamblers Anonymous
US Hotlines 

National Conference 

National Conference on Problem Gambling


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