Underage Gambling: A Bad Bet

2 November 2001
Gambling has been around about 8000 years, give or take a few millennia, and has historically generated obvious and important economic benefits. The game Keno, for example, originated in China where it was operated as a national lottery. Legend tells us that it was responsible for financing the building of the Great Wall, one of the wonders of the world.

Today one of the wonders of the world is the Web. In just seven years this dazzling communication medium has grown from zero to 120 million adult users. By comparison, it took radio more than 38 years to reach this number.

Fortunately, this mind-boggling education, business and entertainment tool--the Web--is used extensively by kids. Unfortunately, it can be extensively used by kids for some activities that are strictly for adults, including gambling online.

Underage Gambling is a Lose-Lose Activity Because…

While the general topic of gambling generates extraordinarily diverse views and opinions, underage gambling is something most everyone can come together on. It’s a lose-lose proposition because:

  • Underage gambling is illegal for kids;
  • The gaming industry can get into a world of trouble with regulators and policy makers; and,
  • Kids are at a higher risk than adults for developing an addiction to gambling that may affect their entire life.

Why do Kids Gamble?

It’s fun, it’s exciting, and it's promoted with dreams of instantaneous wealth--the same reasons adults gamble. Yet for many youngsters, gambling has little to do with money. In reality many kids gamble to avoid problems at home, to increase their self-esteem with their peers and to follow in their parents’ footsteps.

How Do Kids Get Introduced to Gambling?

For some kids, gambling can be a family affair. Family trips to the racetrack, lottery or scratch-off tickets given to youngsters by grandparents or other adult role models and bets on sports events and football boards are all gates through which youngsters first enter the mystical and magical world of gambling.

Underage Gambling: Off the Parental Radar Screen

Many adults believe they have found an activity for their children or students to do that is exciting, entertaining and safe. Believing this to be so, some parents have organized a "Casino Night" at their child’s school, having no idea of the addictive nature of gambling for youngsters.

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity for Interactive Gaming

Interactive gaming corporations and operators have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take the pole position on designing a partnership with regulators and parents to implement an action plan for the management of underage gambling online. For those of you who are feeling queasy about this idea, no one is picking on the interactive gaming industry. There is not an industry on the face of the earth that does not have problems associated with it. Progressive and proactive businesses identify those problems and implement an internal plan to fix them. Remember Joe Camel and the tobacco industry and do the opposite.

Where to Start--Responsible Gaming for the Interactive Gaming Industry

Each month in my article for Interactive Gaming News, I will provide strategies for mitigating the problem of underage gambling and problem gambling for the interactive gaming industry. So start now by thinking about responsible gaming in a positive vein and consider how it will help your industry and your personal business both in the short run and in the long run. The strategies that you will learn from these articles will likely provide newspaper articles or online publishing headlines that could read something like this: "Odd Partnerships? The Interactive Gaming Industry Jumps Ahead on Underage Gambling Concern. Awareness and educational messages to help parents keep youngsters from online gambling."

Responsible gaming doesn’t cost much and it doesn’t hurt. Just remember Joe Camel.

So as they used to say in the old radio days, come on back next time…same time, same station, and I’ll have some additional responsible gaming ideas for you.

Elizabeth George is the chief executive officer of the North American Training Institute (www.nati.org). For more than a decade, NATI has provided responsible gaming programs for the gaming and wagering industries throughout the world. Its programs include a 24-hour compulsive gambling Helpline service with language translations, conceptualizing of company responsible gaming mission statements, policy statements, employee assistance programs, program collaborations and customized responsible gaming multimedia programs. For further information, contact: North American Training Institute, 314 West Superior Street, Suite 702, Duluth, MN 55802, USA or (218) 722-1503.