Longtime readers know that problem gambling is one of my pet issues. That’s why I am so pleased to see Senator Maria Cantwell taking the lead on our nation’s fast growing epidemic of underage gambling.
In a letter sent Monday to Surgeon General Richard Carmona, Cantwell lays out the relationship between underage gambling and “other risk behaviors” such as alcohol abuse and smoking. According to Cantwell, as many as 8 percent of young people may have a gambling problem, and nearly half start gambling before the age of ten. She asks the Surgeon General for his help in raising pubic awareness of youth gambling addiction.
Children are also three times more likely to become addicted to gambling than adults. I am particularly concerned that childhood exposure to gambling is increasingly widespread — exposure that may tragically result in later compulsive gambling addictions. For example, games of chance are used to market many products that also have public health consequences, such as the consumption of high calorie foods and soda. Children are exposed to gambling every time there’s a scratch-off card at a fast food restaurant, or a prize under a soda bottle cap liner.
Not to mention the youth poker craze, that is being fed by ESPN coverage of poker tournaments.
Cantwell is working on this issue with Senator John McCain, who has previously sponsored legislation restricting gambling on youth athletic events. I expect underage gambling and addiction to become a high profile issue over the coming years, as the fast growing gambling industry develops a new generation of its best customers: compulsive gamblers.
In Washington state, legal gambling has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry, and gambling addiction has grown with it. And yet Washington currently does not spend a penny on problem gambling treatment or prevention. As a result, the state has only a handful of licensed counselors, and not a single treatment facility.
The Gambling Commission also provides inadequate oversight and enforcement. As I have previously reported, the Gambling Commission conducted a sting operation at seven Seattle-area card rooms, and was surprised to find that a “very young looking” sixteen-year-old was able to gamble and purchase alcohol at three of the seven.
The Legislature is currently considering HB 1031, a bill that would permanently fund treatment and prevention programs, but at about $500,000, the proposed appropriation was little more than symbolic. Hopefully, Sen. Cantwell’s national leadership role will help push the Governor and the Legislature to seriously address this public health crisis at home.