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DHS news release

May 29, 2008

General contact: Ken Palke, 503-947-5286
Program contact: Wendy Hausotter, 503-945-9703

Overall youth gambling down, but Internet's lure draws concern, DHS reports

One of every 20 Oregon adolescents may be a problem or at-risk gambler and many youngsters are being drawn to free gambling-type games on the Internet, according to a recent study sponsored by the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS).

The study findings, which are in a report titled "Oregon Youth and Their Parents: Gambling and Problem Gambling Prevalence and Attitudes," will be used to refine and develop Oregon's model problem gambling prevention programs.

Oregon's techno-savvy youth indicate that they're gambling for free on the Internet. Many are playing less poker, which used to be the number one gambling activity among youngsters.

"The emergence of free gambling on the Internet is no surprise, but is of real concern," said Paul D. Potter, DHS problem gambling services manager. "Ads for online games pop up, and kids think that if money's not involved there's no risk.

"Kids don't realize they're being primed to play for money later, which is illegal. They can also become a victim of identity theft," he said. "Parents need to be vigilant about their kids' Internet use."

Despite the increase in Internet play, gambling among Oregon 12- to 17-year-olds has declined significantly in the past decade, primarily due to a change in attitudes about young people and gambling.

"When parents learn more about the potential risks of youth gambling, they do a better job of helping their kids make different choices about using their leisure time," said Potter. "Our statewide and local prevention and awareness efforts are paying off, especially when you realize that during the same decade opportunities to gamble have increased."

Potter said Oregon's awareness-raising job isn't finished, because the survey shows that despite evidence to the contrary, most parents and kids still don't see gambling as a behavior that can lead to serious problems, even addiction.

In the past 10 years the number of youths playing the Lottery has declined 80 percent. Potter praised the vigilance of casinos and the Oregon Lottery in helping to reduce underage gambling.

"Selling to anyone under the age of 18 is a violation of a retailer's contract with the Lottery and could put the business's ability to sell our games in jeopardy," said Carole Hardy, Oregon Lottery assistant director for marketing. "We are diligent about providing our retailers with training about the perils of underage play and other responsible selling programs."

According to the study, parents who gamble become role models in their households. Chances are double that their children will become at-risk gamblers and four times as likely that they will become problem gamblers.

Approximately 1.3 percent of Oregon adolescents are problem gamblers, which is narrowly defined as having an extreme pattern of behavior. Another 4.6 percent score as at-risk gamblers, which means that several risk factors are present. Young people who gamble are more likely to use alcohol and drugs, get into fights, skip school and engage in other risky behaviors, according to the study.

"When we hear parents say, ‘What's the harm in kids playing poker? At least I know where they are. They could be doing much worse things.', it tells us that they haven't seen the real data," said Potter. "If they did, they'd think twice."

Oregon parents and children in 1,550 families were interviewed by researchers from May to August 2007. The study found that 63 percent of adolescents gambled at least once, 46 percent gambled in the past year and three percent gamble weekly or more often. Boys gamble on a more regular basis than girls, and older teens are more likely to gamble regularly than younger ones.

The report recommends these improvements to awareness and prevention programs for youth gambling:

  • Use alternative approaches to help Oregon youth with gambling problems, such as teaching parents, teachers, counselors and other youth workers to understand that youth gambling is a problem and recognize its symptoms.
  • Integrate problem gambling information into existing school-based curricula on healthy choices and addictions.
  • Target awareness efforts to athletic coaches and similar groups because of higher problem gambling rates among school sports participants.

Information on problem gambling is available on the Web at 1877mylimit.org.

To reach the free and confidential Oregon Problem Gambling Hotline, call 1-877-MY-LIMIT or visit 1877mylimit.org.