Every so often, a discussion of the legal age requirement for gambling in the United States resurfaces. Recently, the Ohio Lottery Commission approved rules that will allow 18-year-olds to gamble at the video lottery terminals that will be installed at the state’s newly approved racetrack casinos, which are set to be in operation by the middle of next year. Though there has been some public concern about the age requirement being too low, lottery officials have said they don’t believe it is an issue since 18-year-olds already are permitted to buy lottery tickets and bet at horse tracks in Ohio. The ultimate decision on this issue still is up in the air at press time, but the discussion surrounding it is resurrecting questions about gambling behavior and gambling disorders among teenagers.
For those of us in the commercial casino sector, for which the age requirement to gamble is 21 nationwide, preventing underage gambling is a business imperative and one we all take very seriously. We put strict policies in place to assure underage individuals are not able to access our gaming facilities, and we educate our employees about identifying and removing underage individuals from our properties.
Yet, regardless of the fact that children and teens are not gambling in commercials casinos, research shows us that they are, in fact, gambling.
According to a recent national survey, nearly 70 percent of 14 to 19 year-olds in the U.S. gambled during the past year. Now, these teens aren’t placing bets in commercial casinos, but they are placing bets on poker, the lottery, video games, sports scores and a variety of other activities.
Research on youth gambling shows us that young people are more likely to have problems with gambling than adults. The prevalence rate of pathological gambling among U.S. adults is about 1 percent; among young people, studies have revealed the rate is slightly higher. What’s more, studies show that adults with gambling problems started gambling at an early age.
Much of the research conducted on youth gambling during the past decade has been funded by the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG), the AGA’s affiliated charity. Since it was founded in 1996, the NCRG has funded a variety of research projects on youth gambling – from those that examine gambling behavior in youth and college-aged individuals to those that explore the risk factors that may make young people more likely to gamble or have problems gambling.
As the body of research on this topic has grown, the NCRG has worked to develop practical, real-world applications from the research findings to help raise awareness about gambling disorders and responsible gaming and prevent gambling-related harms.
In 2008, the NCRG released “Talking with Children about Gambling,” a research-based guide for parents and others who mentor youth that outlines some of the ways young people gamble, provides tips on how to recognize warning signs of gambling disorders and details what adults can do to ensure that children avoid risky behaviors. The free guide is available for download at www.ncrg.org.
The NCRG’s latest initiative focuses on college-aged youth. Research shows that college students frequently engage in risky behaviors at higher rates than the general adult population. And, in spite of increases in college-based prevention measures during the past two decades, addiction-related problems continue to be a problem on U.S. campuses.
According to a Harvard Medical School study, only 22 percent of higher education institutions in the U.S. have a written policy on gambling, while nearly 100 percent have policies on alcohol use and abuse. With the release last month of its official recommendations for creating science-based policies and programs relating to gambling on university campuses, the NCRG-funded Task Force on College Gambling Policies is hoping to help these institutions fill this void.
In its recommendations report, the task force offers 10 customizable recommendations focusing on three primary areas: on-campus prohibitions and restrictions, recognition of the importance of recovery-based policies and how to facilitate them, and special events. The recommended policies and programs range from establishing a campus-wide committee to develop a comprehensive gambling policy, to making reasonable accommodations for students who may miss class as they focus on recovery, to strengthening the capacity of counseling services to identify and treat gambling disorders.
The task force’s report represents more than a year of work by a group whose members represent a cross section of disciplines, from researchers and clinicians to administrators, student health and student life professionals, and athletic advisors. They also hail from a geographically diverse range of institutions, including the University of Alabama; Bridgewater State College; the University of Denver; George Fox University; Harvard University; Lehigh University; Mississippi State University; the University of Missouri, Columbia; the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; the University of Nevada, Reno; Oregon State University; and Villanova University.
These recommendations represent a significant advance in the practical application of research to help raise awareness of gambling disorders and prevent gambling-related harms. Research shows that when higher education institutions adopt and enforce clear policies, they can be effective in preventing students from getting into trouble.
Regardless of what the legal age requirement is for gambling, as colleges and universities across the U.S. begin to develop their own policies on gambling, we in the gaming industry have a vital role to play. We already have taken significant strides to promote responsible behavior and raise awareness about gambling-related harms among our patrons.
By working with local universities and supporting the adoption of campus policies that are grounded in sound research, we can help ensure that college-aged youth who may be at risk for developing a gambling problem have access to the support and resources they need early on – before they ever set foot in one of our facilities.