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DHS news release

April 15, 2005


This guest opinion is by Jeff Marotta, problem gambling services manager in the Oregon Department of Human Services. For a photo, contact DHS Public Affairs at (503) 945-5738.


School casino night? Use it to teach gambling's risksLength: 537 words

By Jeff Marotta

A representative of a rural Willamette Valley high school wrote a letter recently asking if my agency would help support an alcohol- and drug-free casino night as part of the school's graduation activities.

"We are planning a casino theme," she wrote, "with all the thrills of Las Vegas, including all casino games."

Although well-intentioned, the letter – and the large number of other schools holding casino-type activities – points out our blindness to the risks associated with gambling.

There's no question that gambling has entered our mainstream culture and that social gambling can be an entertaining, fun and harmless activity.

But most people don’t know that, just as with tobacco or alcohol, people who start at an early age are more likely to become addicted as adults.


Nor are they thinking about how students who gamble are much more likely than other students to smoke, drink alcohol, use illegal drugs and commit crimes.

They probably don't know that the rate of problem gambling among teens is double that of adults -- 4 percent to 6 percent of youth have a severe gambling problem. Compare that with national statistics showing 4.2 percent of youth abuse alcohol and 2.3 percent have an illicit-drug problem.

Isn’t it ironic that some schools would promote gambling to decrease alcohol and drug use when the number-one addictive behavior on campus is gambling?

Educators and parents need to think about what message our students are receiving: If our trusted school is organizing it, then it must be safe and good for us, right?

I recently got a phone call from two Portland high school seniors who were writing papers about gambling and teens. As we talked, they disclosed that as freshmen and sophomores, their social lives consisted mostly of video games, playing sports and hanging out. Now, they said, it's mostly Texas Hold 'Em with stakes of $1 to $20. They told about a friend who spent his entire spring vacation playing online poker.

Schools and parents have a responsibility to ensure that students understand the risks of gambling, just as we educate our kids about the risks of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs.


OK, maybe it's too late to come up with a new senior night activity. Then at least follow the example of some Canadian casinos that have on-premises "responsible gambling centers." They not only detail the potential dangers, but also help casino guests understand how the games work and the true odds of winning and losing.

Set up a booth not only with brochures but also with available videos that look at gambling from a teen viewpoint and interactive computer CDs that describe gambling odds, permit the user to see general and personal risks, and dispel myths (such as that which says that a "near miss" on a slot machine suggests a winning pull is close at hand).


My office can provide the teen-friendly brochures, videos and interactive CDs to schools.

I don’t recommend that our schools host gambling events. But if the Class of 2005 is going to an alcohol- and drug-free casino night, then we ought to educate our graduates about the risk of gambling so they can hold a winning hand as young adults by making informed and responsible choices.


Jeff Marotta, Ph.D., is problem gambling services manager in the Oregon Department of Human Services. Reach him at jeffrey.j.marotta@state.or.us or at (503) 945-9709.