CYBERSPACE, 2005 (D.O.T.) - The first generation to grow up with legalized gambling, including access to online casinos, is creating a rising number of teens with gambling addictions.

While other addictions such as cigarettes and drugs are fought with warning labels and celebrity ads on TV, parents and educators have not figured out how to reach children and teens addicted to gambling.

Recent studies indicate that more than 70 percent of youth between the ages of 10 and 17 gambled in the past year, up 45 percent from a previous study.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, almost one in three high school students gamble on a regular basis. Playing cards (online and off-line), the lottery, and scratch tickets as well as betting on sporting events are the most popular forms of gambling among teenagers.

” This is the first generation of kids growing up when gambling is legal and available virtually nationwide, ” says George Meldrum of the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems.

Gambling used to be illegal. During the early and middle of the 20th century, organized crime syndicates such as the Mafia controlled much of the gambling in the United States, often using it to “ launder ” (make to appear legal) the profits from other illicit activities, such as drug trafficking.

Until 1978, Nevada had a monopoly over legal casino gambling in the United States, when casinos were legalized in Atlantic City, New Jersey. New Hampshire introduced the first state lottery in 1963 and many states followed suit.

Since its inception in the 1990s, online gambling has spread out and cast a dark shadow worldwide. There are no studies to indicate the number of online underage gambling addicts. However, for underage gamblers, gaining access to gambling outlets is often easier than buying alcohol or cigarettes. The availability and increasing number of Internet gambling sites makes age regulations difficult to enforce.

And, with a large number of these sites located outside the United States, many of the owners do little or nothing to enforce age-restriction laws. Teens’ gambling habits can lead to criminal behavior including stealing from others and abusing their parents’ credit cards.

Researchers at the National Council on Problem Gambling suggest that teens with a gambling problem are more likely to engage in risky behavior such as unsafe sex, binge drinking, illegal drug use and skipping school. Gamblers also have the highest suicide rate of any addicted group.

With a growing number of teens at risk of developing compulsive gambling habits, experts are pushing the government to hold hearings to address the issue. They want public service announcements or warning messages to educate the public on the dangers of gambling.

” It is a major, growing issue, ” says Barbara Raimundo, the mother of a recovering gambling addict who now counsels other parents.

” Our youth need major help, and someone has to be willing to step up to the plate before they start getting really devastated.”

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