Daily Press (Sunday)

Gambling risks rise for young people. How to lower the stakes

- By Kimberly Palmer NerdWallet

For Ambus Hunter, what started as a fun trip to Las Vegas when he was 25 soon turned into a gambling addiction. “I got consumed with the vibes,” he said, recalling how he loved the feeling of winning at first. He began gambling back home in the Midwest and on business trips, playing roulette whenever possible. He burned through thousands of dollars of savings before realizing he needed to find a way to stop.

Now fully financiall­y recovered at 37, Hunter works as an accredited financial counselor in Baltimore, helping other people recover their finances that have been damaged by problemati­c gambling. “I learned a lot about myself and my relationsh­ip with money,” he said, lessons he helps others apply to their own lives and budgets.

Gambling is a growing problem among young adults, according to experts, largely because sports betting and other forms of online wagering are so easily accessible. “More and more youth are becoming vulnerable to gambling and problem gambling. It’s a social contagion,” said Dorothy Nuckols, who teaches personal finance for the University of Maryland Extension in Central Maryland.

Here’s how experts suggest parents can help teenagers and young adults avoid the risks of gambling:

Like sex and drugs, gambling should be on the list of topics to tackle with your children, said Lisa Damour, a clinical psychologi­st, parenting expert and author of “The Emotional Lives of Teenagers.” While gambling might start out as a fun way to raise the stakes on sports viewing with friends, it can quickly spin out of control, she said. Damour considers gambling to be such a prevalent problem among teenagers that she dedicated an episode of her podcast, “Ask Lisa,” to it.

“It’s very easy for kids to go undergroun­d with this,” as kids often hide risky behavior from their parents, Damour said. “It’s usually better if we’re having open conversati­ons about the risks to which they have access, and better if our kids see us as allies in keeping them safe and helping them make better decisions.”

That means talking about the downsides of gambling, such as losing a lot of money, versus banning them from participat­ing at all, which can backfire, Damour said. “If they want to do these things, we can’t stop them,” she added.

Avoid gambling gifts and games

While giving a lottery ticket as a gift to a child or organizing a fantasy football game for a group of kids might seem harmless, doing so can plant the seeds of gambling addiction, said Jeffrey Derevensky, director of the Internatio­nal Center for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors at McGill University.

“One of the early predictors for gambling problems is an early big win,” Derevensky said, such as winning $50 on a lottery ticket at age 12. As a result, he urges parents to avoid purchasing lottery tickets for children, even as a last-minute gift.

“We are trying to delay the onset of gambling until people have the cognitive skills to set limits,” Derevensky said. “If you don’t gamble, you can’t become a problem gambler.”

Enforce limits

Parents can also make sure underage minors still living at home don’t gamble online by blocking gambling sites and not providing access to a credit card, which is generally required before placing bets. “We found many young people are using their parents’ credit card to gamble,” Derevensky said.

Cait DeBaun, vice president of strategic communicat­ions and responsibi­lity for the American Gaming Associatio­n, said in an email that online gambling is for adults only. Legal gambling websites verify the age and identity of participan­ts, which isn’t necessaril­y the case for unregulate­d operators.

Parents should never provide their own credential­s to allow children to gamble, she added. Not only is it against the law, but it “puts an adult product in the hands of a vulnerable population.”

Recognize the warning signs and get help

If your teenager or young adult seems preoccupie­d with gambling to the degree that it’s having a negative impact on other aspects of their life, then it might be time to seek help, Nuckols said. “It’s really personal as to what crosses the line,” she said. Red flags can include increased anxiety, losing sleep, gambling in secret and using digital currency to hide funds.

Hunter said that at the height of his own gambling addiction, he struggled with shame and embarrassm­ent. He encourages people in a similar situation to seek out support networks like the National Council on Problem Gambling’s 1-800-GAMBLER line, which offers free and confidenti­al help. The organizati­on also offers a free screening tool on its website to help people determine whether they should get help.

Hunter says taking advantage of these free resources can help people overcome problem gambling by giving them a sense of community support. “You don’t have to do it alone,” he said.

 ?? GETTY ?? Sports betting and other online wagering offer easy access. Parents can help by talking about the dangers.
GETTY Sports betting and other online wagering offer easy access. Parents can help by talking about the dangers.

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