An AP story reports increasing rates of gambling behaviors among Nebraska kids. Even though Nebraska does not have casinos in state, as does neighboring Iowa, Nebraska children are nevertheless exposed to gambling through other media, including television programs on poker, as well as potentially through the Internet.
Surveys of sixth, eighth, tenth and twelfth graders showed increasing participation in gambling in 2005 vs. 2003. The 2005 figures indicate that 46 percent of high school seniors had gambled in the past year (including betting on sports, cards, or games of skill, or playing the lottery or bingo for money), up from 37 percent in 2003. Movingdown as young as sixth graders, the figures for 2005 are still at a hefty 28 percent, also up from 2003. It should be noted that this study excludes kids in Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska’s two largest cities. So, if you think the rural kids are doing better than the urban kids, you’ll want to adjust your assessment accordingly. The story with figures can be found here:
(I received the link via e-mail from an individual involved in monitoring gambling statistics.)
A single incident of gambling behavior in the past year, as measured in this survey, does not necessarily mean that these kids have a gambling problem. But it does seem odd indeed that more than one fourth of sixth graders had gambled on something. And the fact that nearly half of seniors had gambled also suggests a penchant for risk-taking, which is likely to continue into adulthood.
Media influences, such as the world poker tour, undoubtedly have some effect on children. Some parents think nothing of having poker nights for their teenage kids. After all, at least they are at home where they can watch them. But I would not be so sure this is entirely safe. You may recall the story of the Lehigh University student who got involved in internet poker and ultimately, out of desperation, turned to robbing a bank to cover his losses. This is an extreme example, but every journey starts with a first step, and this one is apparently beginning when kids are very young.
If there is this much interest in gambling among young people, I would think that our schools should be picking up on this cue and turning it into a teaching moment. Unfortunately, it is hard to discourage conduct that is pervasive in the adult world. But think of the possibilities to teach statistics, probability, and other useful mathematical concepts. I think that a few statistics lessons could go a long way toward changing behaviors among those who are rational and capable of processing risk-analysis of their behavior.
Unfortunately, that kind of cool assessment is developmentally difficult for young minds. Parents need to keep on top of this development. Legislators should also take notice of the kind of message they may send in this area through state gambling policies, including those involving the lottery. Personally, I would rather see a group of young statisticians who believed in working, earning and expanding the economic pie (maybe in economic analysis like our colleague Ernie) than a new population of gamblers looking to take money from someone else. There is a difference.