Teens urged: Think before you gamble

Adam Bowles

This spring, Norwich Free Academy health teacher Vinnie Cirillo plans to survey his class of ninth-graders on the issue of underage gambling.

It’s likely, he said Tuesday, that many of their parents and grandparents gamble at either of the region’s two casinos.

“There’s a need to talk about teenage gambling, especially since our area is so focused on it,” Cirillo said.

On Tuesday, the Connecticut Partnership for Responsible Gambling announced a public service campaign that will address the dangers of underage gambling and the importance of friends reaching out to help each other.

The announcement comes during National Problem Gambling Awareness Week, which has a significant relevance in Eastern Connecticut with the operation of Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino. 

The partnership, now in its 10th year, includes the Connecticut Lottery Corp., state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling.

Mary Drexler, assistant director of the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling, said youth in high school and college are at a higher risk of developing problems with gambling than adults.

The ease of Internet gambling and the expansion of legalized gambling has made gambling more appealing for the current generation of young people. Drexler also said March Madness, or the NCAA basketball tournament, often draws young people into gambling.

A 2008 Connecticut Youth Gambling Report featuring a survey of 4,523 high school students showed 90 percent stated they had gambled in the past year and 10 percent likely had a gambling problem.

The consequences of problem gambling include losing money, chasing losses with more unsuccessful attempts to win, spiraling debt, and, like other addictions, troubled behaviors such as lying, isolation and a lack of concentration on other needs, such as school. 

“The message to youth is if you see your friends gambling or using gambling as an escape and going beyond a social activity, you need to tell your friend that you may have a gambling problem,” Drexler said.

Farther away from the casinos at Woodstock Academy, Kathy Chase, school social worker, said teens don’t seem to talk much about gambling, and her colleagues tell her the issue doesn’t appear to be a problem at the school.

Still, Chase said underage gambling is addressed in the ninth-grade health curriculum, along with other addictive behaviors, such as alcohol and drug abuse.  

In Norwich, Cirillo said some teens gamble, whether on sports or with cards. And, occasionally, a student will end up with a serious problem of underage gambling.

He said while NFA prohibits gambling of any type on campus, some students enjoy gambling online or playing poker at home. A lot of the gambling is “playful,” Cirillo said, but he stresses that it can lead to more serious gambling habits.

Cirillo said he encourages students who enjoy playing cards to do it for competition’s sake, and not to include money.

Roxanna Abrahamson, 16, a Griswold High School student, agreed with that approach. She said she and her friends occasionally play card games, but they don’t bet on the outcomes.

“We’re just like, ‘Why put money into it?’ ” she said. “We need money for better things, like clothes or to help out with our families.”

Nathan Leclair, a 14-year-old student at NFA, said he and his friends occasionally play poker with chips. Often, no one bets with money, but sometimes people play with pennies.

“I’ve never seen it get too serious,” he said, referring to his friends and his peers at NFA.

Leclair said if he ever saw someone try to be “power hungry” about a game and push the limits, he would talk to the friend or someone responsible about the issue.

Michelle Devine, executive director of the Southeastern Regional Action Council, said her agency has launched its own awareness campaign in the region that targets college students.

She said many students practice their poker skills in their dorm rooms or homes with their peers.

“When they turn 21, they are feeling pretty confident in their basement skills and are challenging at the big tables,” she said. “Sometimes they are successful. Sometimes they are  not.”

At a glance

Warnings signs of teen gambling include:

- Obsession with betting.

- Everything else takes a back seat.

- Gambling is out of control.

- Depression.

- Grades worsen.

- Relationships deteriorate.

- Debts increase.

- Broken promises.

- Gambler gets angry when confronted.

- General fear.

- Loss of sleep.

Source: Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling

Norwich Bulletin