Arlene Simon is the executive director of the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems.
It’s everywhere we look — on every screen, on billboards, on the radio and our streaming services. Advertisements for gambling apps and online gaming have popped up in every nook and cranny of our existence. You can’t talk about a sport anymore without mentioning the fantasy leagues that accompany them or the office pool that keeps you checking in on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
And, while it may be true that, for the vast majority, gambling is simply a fun, occasional pastime — a way to make a football game more exciting or enjoy an evening with friends — for others, it can lead down a very dark road of gambling addiction.
In Delaware, gambling is legal for those 21 and older; however, it might surprise you to learn how easy it is for our youth to gamble, too, and at just how early an age those habits can form. According to the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems, in Delaware, nearly 44% of youth surveyed in middle and high schools admit to having gambled in the past year. Yet 66% of parents have never talked to their kids about gambling.
Youth gambling is a growing concern that deserves our attention. Kids who are introduced to gambling by age 12 are four times more likely to develop a gambling problem. And what seems so harmless — a simple card or skill game, for instance — can, for some children, lead to a dangerous gambling addiction.
Maybe you let your child scratch off that lottery card you bought or help you pick your bracket for the basketball tournament. Kids are also playing on the sports-betting apps downloaded on a parent’s phone. Some subtle, some not, these are all ways kids become exposed to gambling. Even video games, role-playing games and trading cards have an element of chance that introduces gambling at a very young age.
The Delaware Council on Gambling Problems is not here to outlaw video games, gaming events or gambling. What we are here to do is educate and help those who may be at risk get the help they need to recover from, or avoid, a gambling problem.
As adults, we can monitor our kids and detect a possible addiction to gambling. Look for these warning signs:
The council recently launched a new website, dangerouslevels.org, that has resources and information aimed at parents, as well as kids and teens. It explains the connection between video games and gambling, and helps parents and children understand the warning signs — and tells them how to get help. Most importantly, it emphasizes that no one is alone in this addiction. Anyone seeking help can speak confidentially with a trained professional.
Can we prevent youth gambling? That may not be possible, but we can start educating young people early about the risks and consequences of gambling. The Delaware Council on Gambling Problems’ in-school programs are free and run during the school year. They feature an interactive presentation that engages students and educates them on the dangers of gambling. So far, 24 schools throughout the state have hosted a presentation, with 12 more planned this school year.
We also need to limit young people’s access to gambling. Monitor where and when your child is playing video games — and for how long. Put parental controls on your own online gambling sites and apps.
If you think too much of your child’s time is spent locked away in their room or face down in a phone, provide them with alternative activities that are fun and rewarding. This can include sports, hobbies, volunteer work and other positive pursuits that build self-esteem and provide a sense of purpose.
If you suspect that a young person or an adult in your life may have a gambling problem, don’t take the gamble it will all be OK. And don’t think you have to go it alone. The Delaware Council on Gambling Problems serves a variety of ages and populations — from youth to seniors. We also work in tandem with many organizations throughout the state, such as, but not limited to, veterans’ groups, criminal justice, faith-based organizations and drug and alcohol clinics.
Please visit the council’s website, deproblemgambling.org, or call 888-850-8888 for information or treatment. It is free and confidential.