As Sports Betting Grows, States Tackle Teenage Problem Gambling – Route Fifty


This story was originally posted by Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

With online and retail sports betting now legal in more than 30 states, the portrait of a new problem gambler is emerging: the high school student.

Although the legal age for gambling ranges from 18 to 21 depending on the state, between 60% and 80% of high school students report having gambled for money in the past year, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. The group says the pandemic and easy access to online gambling have heightened risks for young adults.

And 4% to 6% of high schoolers are considered addicted to gambling, the group says.

“We believe that the risks for gambling addiction overall have grown 30% from 2018 to 2021, with the risk concentrated among young males 18 to 24 who are sports bettors,” said Keith Whyte, the council’s executive director, in an interview. The council is a nonprofit group that advocates for helping problem gamblers but is neutral on legalized gambling.

The percentage of high school students with a gambling problem is double that of adults, research has found. About 5% of all young people between 11 and 17 meet at least one of the criteria for a gambling problem, such as liking the rush felt when gambling, writing IOUs to stay in the game and wanting to win “the big one” so much that they keep playing even when losing a great deal.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way to legal sports betting in 2018, states have raced to open the taps of tax revenue from the practice. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have live, legal sports betting, and five more states have live sports betting on the way.

Support for the practice has grown: About two-thirds of recently surveyed adults approved of legalizing betting on professional sports, up from 55% in 2017, according to polling from The Washington Post and the University of Maryland. However, roughly 60% of respondents said they were concerned that the increasing availability of sports betting will lead to children gambling.

But as sports betting becomes pervasive—in brick-and-mortar betting parlors and, often, for anyone with a cell phone—state gambling addiction services are underfunded, Whyte and state administrators say, and their focus is on adults.

“Kids who have problems fall through the cracks,” Whyte said.

There’s a growing recognition among state legislators and health departments that the youngest gamblers need help, but that awareness has yet to materialize into widespread gambling prevention programs for youth, according to Whyte and other experts.

“Children and young people are the fastest-growing segment of gamblers,” said Virginia Del. Sam Rasoul, a Democrat, who this year sponsored the first state law in the country requiring all public schools to teach students about the risks of gambling.

“I had some Virginia families contact me, saying, `This is a problem, what should we do about it?’” he said …….


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