Gambling among The US Adolescents in NORC Surveys

The conclusion is startling, but confirmed by every study: children are gambling, even before they leave high school. NORC did note “adolescents were notably absent from casino play, with barely one percent reporting any casino wagers. This presumably reflects well on the enforcement efforts of casino operators, among other factors.” NRC, however, examined thirteen relevant studies and found that a median of 27 percent of adolescents reported having gambled in a casino, while 10 percent reported having done so in the past year. 104 While the majority gamble on illegal activities, a significant number gamble on legal forms of gambling. This fact alone raises serious and troubling concerns regarding the accessibility of gambling, particularly convenience type, and the ineffective safeguards that are presently in place.

Parents simply cannot rely upon the government or the industry to prevent underage gambling.

NRC surveyed the relevant research literature on rates of problem and pathological gambling among adolescents. In the past year, the studies found that adolescent problem and pathological gambling combined ranged from 11.3 to 27.7 percent, with a median of 20 percent. For pathological gamblers only, these studies estimated rates between 0.3 to 9.5 percent, with a median of 6.1 percent. For lifetime adolescent pathological and problem gambling, the range of estimates was between 7.7 and 34.9 percent, with a median of 11.2 percent. For pathological gamblers only, the estimates ranged from 1.2 percent to 11.2 percent, with a median of 5.0 percent. 105

NORC, in a survey of 500 youths ages 16 to 17, found that the combined rate of pathological and problem gambling was 1.5 percent. But this figure may be low. The estimate was based on responses by youth who reported they had lost more than $100 or more in a single day or as a net yearly loss. When this constraint is removed, the figure jumps up to three percent. 106 Other factors may have also led to under-reporting since the consent of a parent or guardian was required in order for a minor to participate in the NORC interview. Youths gambled differently from adults, using private and unlicensed games, such as card games or games of skill, sports pools, and lotteries, especially instant lottery tickets. 107

It may be important to note the impact of proximity to legalized gambling on adolescents. One study found that college students in New York, New Jersey, and Nevada had higher rates of gambling than did students in Texas and Oklahoma. 108 Oddly, South Carolina law allows for anyone to play video poker, which some researchers have called the “crack-cocaine” of gambling because of its highly addictive nature. There is no age limit to play. But there is an age limit of 21 years on who can collect the earnings of play. 109

Several studies have shown that pathological gambling is associated with alcohol and drug use, truancy, low grades, problematic gambling in parents, and illegal activities to finance gambling. How does one place a dollar value— a cost¾on that conduct? How do we, as a nation, quantify the value of lost opportunities to these young individuals?

One recent study found that gambling behavior was significantly associated with multiple drug and alcohol use. For 28 percent of those surveyed in the same study, gambling was associated with carrying a weapon at least once in the past 30 days, and for those who reported a problem with gambling the figure rose to 47 percent. Violence was also associated with gambling: while nearly one-fourth of the non-gambling students reported having fought in the last 30 days, the figure rose to 45 percent for those who reported gambling and 62 percent for those who reported problems attributed to gambling. In addition, the researchers suggested that the data may have been significantly underreported. 110

104 NRC, p. 3-24. 105 NRC at 3-10. 106 NORC at 57-60. 107 NORC at 4. 108 Henry Lesieur, et. al., “Gambling and Pathological Gambling Among University Students,” 16 Addictive Behavior, at 517-527 (1991). 109 ibid. Telephone conversation with Thomas Landes, Public Information Officer, Office of the Attorney General of South Carolina, staff of the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, S. C. (December 10, 1998).