Wagering your milk money: it’s a dangerous gamble

By Matt Stone

In your hand you hold a two of clubs and a three of hearts. The flop comes out, giving you the four and five you so desperately needed. The pot splashes--then comes the turn: a seven. You stay in, hoping for the straight, waiting on the river. The dealer flips it over: a king.

There goes any chance you had for winning the hand, along with your lunch money.

Luckily, as a high-school teenager, it’s the highest bet you could afford.

For many kids, gambling has become a powerful fad, influenced by the mainstream media. A phenomenon that is primarily focused on poker, television has brought gambling onto center stage. Various networks broadcast poker tournaments or even fictional series revolving around gambling.

“I started gambling from a combination of media influence, like movies and ESPN poker, and friends who thought it would be a fun time,” said Alex, who asked that his real name not be used.

While this form of gaming is nothing new, the popularity has escalated in recent years.

With a newly increased following, gambling has found its way into the teenage community. The problem begins with the attractions teens are lured by: sex, money and excitement, all of which are routinely misrepresented by television.

Most kids believe they can play for hours online and become card masters in real life. As they eventually find out, their hopes of riches turn quickly into the reality of despair.

Most teens say they gamble for the excitement it brings, as well as social pleasures.

“Most of the time it’s for fun, other times boredom,” said Jung-Ki Kang, one of the high school students interviewed.

Predominately affecting more men than women, problem gambling causes extra stress, strain on relationships and lowered self-esteem. It is during adolescence, say the experts, that massive changes are under way in physical and pathological structures--changes that are hindered by gambling afflictions. Not all teenage gamblers are problem gamblers, but social gambling can easily lead to more serious afflictions.

“It’s (not good) when you lend the password to your online poker account to a ‘friend’ and he loses your $700 in three hours,” said Kang.

Studies show teenage gamblers are roughly two to three times as likely to develop a gambling addiction than adults who begin at older ages. Those who are able to control their interest in gambling reduce the chances of developing a gambling problem.

“I don’t play to win a lot of money, although when I’m up, the game is much more fun,” said Ryan, a regular player who also wished to remain anonymous.

“It isn’t a problem in itself when done in moderation.”

For those social gamblers, there are other issues to worry about, such as the legality of the game. Arizona’s laws specify that no one under the age of 21 is allowed to gamble in any form at a casino, home, or any other location. While such policies are rarely enforced, ignorance of the law leaves teens in the dark about it being illegal.

“I didn’t know it was illegal in one’s home, but I wouldn’t care even if I did know,” said Alex. “I think it is highly unlikely that a bunch of cops are going to turn up in my driveway and prevent me from playing a five dollar buy in poker game.”

Gambling is not all bad, as there are plenty of benefits that come from social gaming. Poker nights are often a good way to get together with friends and they can also replace other worse habits, giving teens a healthier hobby.

If discipline is maintained in the game, the pastime leaves only one question: knowing when to fold and when to go all in.

Matt Stone is a graduate of Desert Vista High School who now majors in journalism at ASU.