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For Every 2 Children Helped, One Is Hurt!!

Published Sunday, October 1, 2000, in The State.
How many children are we willing to sacrifice to the lottery?
Editorial Writer

Every year, the Georgia Lottery sends about 140,000 kids to college for free.

It helps send another 10,000 to 28,000 kids into a dead-end life of compulsive gambling. And it leaves up to 60,000 more at risk of winding up in the same fix.

Across the United States, we are living through a great social experiment on the effects on children of having their state government encourage them to engage in pathological behavior. The early results are, to say the least, disturbing. Adolescents become problem and pathological gamblers at least twice the rate of adults.

"Young people have been gambling since the beginning of time," Harvard psychology professor Howard Shaffer told The New York Times. "But I think now, for the first time, young people are growing up having lived their entire lives in a social environment where gambling is promoted and socially accepted."
It is against the law for adolescents to gamble in most states. But the law is routinely broken. In Massachusetts, home of one of the nation's oldest lotteries, the state Department of Public Health reports that playing the lottery is second only to alcohol in illegal teen activity. The Los Angeles Times reports that, nationally, compulsive gambling has surpassed drug abuse and is closing in on alcohol abuse as the fastest-growing addiction among young people.

Dr. Shaffer estimates the rate of problem gambling among adolescents at 9.4 percent, based on a review of analyses around the country. Even lottery commissions' own research indicates there is a serious problem; a 1998 study sponsored by the Oregon State Lottery found that a third of Oregon's youth had illegally played the lottery in the previous year, 4 percent were problem gamblers and another 11 percent showed warning signs.

These adolescent addicts don't have a happy adulthood to look forward to. Studies put the number of compulsive gamblers who commit crimes to support their habits as high as two-thirds. Up to a fifth attempt suicide.

Gambling addiction is a dead-end life because it is the most difficult addiction to break. As The Los Angeles Times explained: "With drug or alcohol abusers, there is the hope of sobering up, an accomplishment in itself, no matter what problems may have accompanied their addictions. Compulsive gamblers often see no way to purge their urges when suffocating debts suggest only one answer: a hot streak."

Government-run gambling isn't the only thing that contributes to the new adolescent addiction. Many states allow casinos and other forms of private gambling. In South Carolina, for example, children were allowed to play video poker; it merely wasn't legal for them to collect any winnings.

But research paid for by the gambling industry has shown that addiction rates have increased with the growth of gambling, and lotteries have led the growth in gambling. The most powerful message about the acceptability of gambling comes from those lotteries. It is a message that half the lottery states underline by dedicating gambling profits to education -- and bombarding the public with the message that gambling is their civic duty, to help the children.

In California, for instance, the percentage of high school students who gambled increased by 40 percent after the state started a lottery.

Most states require lottery players to be at least 18. But enforcement is lax, and other provisions of state gambling laws actually encourage gambling. Legislation proposed by lottery supporters in South Carolina, for example, would allow people to give lottery tickets to children as gifts -- in effect, getting them hooked early.

As the National Gambling Impact Study Commission put it in its ground-breaking report last year:
"The sale of lottery games to minors is illegal in every state. However, by all measures, it is commonplace. A survey in Minnesota of 15- to 18-year-olds found that 27% had purchased lottery tickets for themselves. Even higher levels of 32%, 34%, and 35% were recorded in Louisiana, Texas, and Connecticut, respectively. In Massachusetts, Connecticut, and other states, lottery tickets are available to the general public through self-service vending machines. When one store owner in Boston was asked if minors purchased tickets from the lottery ticket dispenser in his lobby, he replied: 'How would I know? No one's watching it.' Thus, it is not surprising that a survey conducted by the Massachusetts Attorney General's office found that minors as young as 9 years old were able to purchase lottery tickets on 80% of their attempts, and that 66% of minors were able to place bets on keno games. 75% of Massachusetts high school seniors report having played the lottery."

As a result, it's no surprise that the National Research Council's review of several studies on adolescent gambling found that between 52 percent and 89 percent of teen-agers gambled in the past year, with an average of 73 percent.

In Georgia, our model for government-sponsored gambling, the state Department of Human Resources found that 62 percent of adolescents have gambled; 2.8 percent are problem gamblers, and another 10.3 percent are at risk of becoming problem gamblers.

And this is the result of a program its supporters say was put in place in order to help children.

With friends like that, our kids don't need any enemies.

[Ms. Scoppe can be reached at or at (803) 771-8571.]

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posted: 3 October 2000