Abby Baughman, Iris Hernandez, Olivia Hohmann

In the last 20 seconds of the game, a winning buzzer beater three point shot is made. His eyes widen as the realization sets in that the last remaining dollars he has are leaving his account. All of his savings have been spent in a matter of weeks, feeding his addiction. His phone is blowing up from his friends’ messages  about the game, knowing that some of them have doubled their gains. He gets up, in frustration, to finish his work due tomorrow. Gambling has consumed his thoughts, only at age 17. This is the common story of many more teenagers than one might think.

The light of the screen shines on the teen’s face, as he sits and watches the team he bet on lose. He waits for the next  football game, betting even more and chasing the loss. It is a cycle he doesn’t know how to stop.

On Feb. 1, Head of Upper School Henry Heil sent an email to parents letting them know about a concern of underage gambling happening in the community.

“There was a lot of talk among the faculty about overhearing conversations, of primarily boys, talking about gambling,” Heil said. “I wanted to make sure parents were aware [of this concern].”

underage Gambling

Underage gambling has become an increasingly large problem with the growth and accessibility of online casinos. Gambling online allows more people, especially teenagers, to lay a bet. According to a March 29 Eagle Edition poll of 158 students, 24 percent of responders said they gamble, and 50 percent know of a teenager who has a gambling problem.

“People can leave a casino, but most have their phones at all times” Will Straughan, founder and CEO of Sound Check Prevention Network, an addiction prevention company, said. “When it comes down to it, gambling is gambling wherever it is. I can see online gambling being a bigger risk for a teenager because having it on the phone and being able to access it at any time.”

This is the first year that gambling has become a concern to the school’s administration. According to the American Gaming Association sports betting rose 69 percent in 2020.

“Here at ESD [gambling] is relatively new,” Heil said. “It has become more and more mainstream and normalized in our culture. I expect the pandemic had a lot to do with the sudden increase], when people [are] at home and looking for things to entertain themselves [with].”

According to the Federal Trade Commission, a study in 2002 showed that many gambling sites’ underage warnings were hard-to-find, and 20 percent had none. The large majority of minors are only exposed to gambling online through sports betting websites.

“It’s easier for minors to manipulate systems online to get that verification and approval” Executive Casino Host Brandon Wooden said. I know [at casinos] we do very extensive background checks of IDs before we allow anybody to participate. I can’t speak for all the online gambling companies, but I know that it’s much easier for minors to maneuver within their parameters.”

The NIH published in 2020 that the average online gambler is a 15 year old male, and according to a article, published in 2020, four to six percent of teens have a major gambling problem, and 80 percent of teens have gambled in the past year. Like all addictions, gambling addicts are filled with the need to continue despite their monetary losses.

“I go through hot streaks and cold streaks, but I have lost mostly,” junior Pat Simmingtons* said. “Amongst my friends I’d say I am down a bit, but not a crazy amount. I lost hundreds of dollars on online sports betting [though].”

However, students don’t just have access to gambling digitally. At the Junior Symphony Ball, an annual dance for the sophomores, juniors and seniors from various schools in the Dallas area, there is a room where kids use fake money in order to gambling. Games such as blackjack, poker and craps are available. The same student poll revealed that, while attending JSB, 32 percent of respondents gambled.

“I gambled for about an hour and a half, [and] I understand the addictive nature of gambling,” sophomore Ralph Marks* said. “I realize that I could become addicted if not disciplined.”

Despite casino gambling being illegal in Texas, it is still very popular. According to The Dallas Morning News, Texans spend $2.5 billion dollars annually on gambling. Gamblers also engage in post loss speeding—they place bets faster after a loss, trying to win back money.

“I probably know like 20 people in my grade that sports bet and lose money, every one of them,” sophomore Tom Mossman* said. “There’s only one person I know in all of ESD who hasn’t lost money on sports betting. At first you lose only a minor enough amount of money that you can be like ‘Oh, I didn’t really lose that much money,’ but I know a lot of kids who have just lost thousands of dollars. I know a kid who has lost $3,000 in the past month and a half.”

According to the National Library of Medicine, in 2002, 19 percent of gamblers filed for bankruptcy opposed to the non-gambling average of 4 percent.

“I think that [gambling] promotes irresponsibility with your finances and teaches people that money is a toy. It can also severely damage families relationships and ruin marriages,” sophomore Olivia Marquez said. “The idea of being that out of control of my money is honestly a little unsettling.”

It is illegal in Texas to gamble at a casino or bet on a sports game through an organization. However, it is legal to bet on a game amongst a small group of people, on private land and with equal odds of winning excluding skill. Social gambling is solely meant for having fun and socializing, where everyone has a fair chance of winning and the only person who will win a cash prize is the winner. This type of gambling must be done in a private location with a small social group that is not open to the public and without a door fee.

While some people might not think of Fantasy Football or March Madness brackets as examples of gambling, they qualify as social gambling. Every year when late August and early September roll around, people start looking at football players’ stats to figure out who would be the best person to ‘draft.’ At ESD, 42 percent of students have participated in a Fantasy Football competition, the poll revealed.

“My fantasy football group was made up of a total of 12 players,” sophomore Ben Guerriero said. “We all put in $20, so the winner ended up receiving $240. At the draft, we decided that the winner would cut the loser’s hair. I ended up being the loser of the 2021 draft.”

Some may think fantasy football amongst friends including a small prize is a safe way to make sports predictions; however, betting larger amounts of money on sports games, players and seasons has become more popular. Constant online ads and commercials glamorize sports betting and make it seem like a way to win easy cash. These promotions do not show how people can lose money, making it seem like the gambler is only a click away from winning hundreds of dollars.

“It’s like beer commercials where it might not make somebody run out and do it, but it makes it normalized and reduces the associations of losing money,” Straughan said. “They’re making it normalized and right in the middle of an event where lots of people are watching a game.”

According to Consumer News and Business Channel, in 2021 alone, 45.2 million Americans were expected to wager on the NFL season in some form. Many people, especially celebrities, like to bet extremely large sums of money on football games. According to Forbes, Jim McIngvale aka Mattress Mack, owner of Gallery Furniture, lost $9.5 million on his Super Bowl bet.

“I think celebrities and adults control their own money in ways [where] they perceive themselves to have full control over their money but gambling will never be a smart investment,” junior Drew Chairuangdej said. “As a Vegas native, I used to see that everywhere. Gambling and alcoholism are the same addictive coping mechanisms, but people perceive to have full control [over] their money despite the rigged probability and their egos. So when people start betting high amounts of money on things, I believe they are simply trying to have fun and win, but they are naive to the way it can ruin their finances.”

March Madness is also an exciting time of year for basketball enthusiasts. The tournament brings 32 college basketball teams to compete against each other to win the grand National Collegiate Athletic Association title. Every year people create brackets, predicting how they believe the competition will go. Typically ESD students will just do a friendly bet with their friends or family where the winner will receive a prize or a dinner at any restaurant.

“March Madness is definitely a mix of fun and my love for competition,” Amison said. “I have always loved basketball, so I enjoy watching the games. I think this is a great way to have a competition with your friends and also just watch basketball.”

Making the perfect basketball bracket is extremely difficult as there are a myriad of possibilities. According to the NCAA if one flips a coin or takes a random guess when picking teams there is a 1 in 9.2 trillion chance of winning and if one decides to use their basketball knowledge there is a one in 120.2 billion chance of a perfect bracket. This form of gambling is widespread as 62 precent of students have created a March Madness bracket.

“I believe it was 2019 when I actually got the whole first round correct,” sophomore Hunt Sands said. “It was insanely impressive as there were only a couple hundred people with a perfect first round. March Madness is definitely a game of luck. Nobody has ever even gotten close to a perfect bracket.”

There is a debate over whether or not making these brackets is a gateway to hard gambling. Some believe that it is dangerous because once someone gets a taste of victory, people play for a higher prize because they think they are lucky. Others believe that the game is just something fun to do with friends and family.

“I believe that when people win, they develop a pleasure to comfort their minds,” Chairuangdej said. “I believe once you win, you feel like you can keep on going to greater and greater distances to soak out any more chances of winning, the saying deems true… ‘high risk, high reward.’”

Psychology of Gambling

Gambling disorder, or pathological gambling disorder, is the behavior of a person who gambles compulsively, repeatedly and in a way seemingly beyond rational control, according to  the National Institutes of Health. Gambling addictions can cause major effects on the life of the gambler and their family. Most gambling addicts, according to the NIH,  are men in the lower class who most likely began gambling in their teenage years and abuse substances. Twenty-six percent of the population gambles, but only 4 percent of the population and 8 percent of college students are addicted to gambling.

“The adolescent brain, roughly below 24, is still developing, so much like drinking, gambling can really [affect] the connections in the lower part of the brain where a lot of the basic instincts and the pleasure and reward system are,” psychologist Dr. Adam Hinshaw said in an interview with the Eagle Edition. “Those neural pathways are really quickly going to get laid down by any sort of very stimulating, pleasurable experience. It’d be easy for [teenagers] to kind of get hooked on gambling because they don’t have the kind of resources in your neocortex, the top of your brain, and the lower part of your brain to emotionally be able to regulate gambling, so [addiction] may happen really quickly.”

Unlike many other types of addictions, gambling is cited to be linked to psychological issues rather than strictly biological. The vast majority of gambling addicts are already addicted to alcohol or drugs, so are therefore more vulnerable to addiction. Teenagers are the most vulnerable to developing drug and alcohol addiction. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 37 percent of highschool seniors abuse drugs.

“The reward pathway is very powerful for conditioning,” Hinshaw said. “Cocaine acts directly on the open pathway into the other stimulants. Alcohol acts indirectly like heroin or prescription painkillers. Marijuana acts directly but in slightly different ways. Gambling tends to act on the dopamine pathway. It’s not necessarily because gamling is inherently bad, but because of what money is as a source of access to other experiences. Research shows that it is the same pathway that is activated in someone who has a gambling problem and someone has a drug problem.”

According to data from the U.S. National Comorbidity Survey Replication with 9,282 participants, 96 percent of those who met the requirements of gambling addiction had one or more psychiatric diagnoses, 49 percent were treated for a mental illness and 57.5 percent had a substance addiction

“The main reason someone with more mental health issues developed gambling addictions easier is they might have other problems besides compulsive or impulsive behavior,” Hinshaw said. “Usually, people who do develop problems with [addiction] tend to have other preexisting problems like psychological problems passed down from the family of origin. Most of these [problems] are issues of regulating emotions. Then they’re introduced to something like gambling, and it becomes a habit because it’s pleasurable.”

Common symptoms of gambling disorder are the need to chase or bet with larger amounts of money to make up for the losses, increasing the amount of money being bet to combat the brain’s tolerance and the unquenchable feeling of needing to gamble or the feeling of withdrawal. Compared to people without gambling disorders, gambling addicts have a lower tendency to assess risks and rewards when making a decision. In this study, alcoholics scored similarly to gambling addicts.

“Any sort of addiction the brain acts the same way – there is a ‘switch’ that they need more and more,” AP psychology teacher Amy Henderson said. “The difference is that drugs and alcohol can be a physical dependency, and gambling is a psychological dependency.” 

Like all other forms of addiction, gambling chemically affects the brain, mainly the endocrine system or hormone production. The brain grows a tolerance to gambling, so in order to produce the same amount of adrenaline the gambler must make riskier bets. The brain responds most between when the bet is placed and learning the results. Actually, gaining the win does not produce as strong of a reaction as the anticipation between. This may be why gamblers are never satisfied with their winnings and crave the feeling of betting again.

“As with any addiction, you always want more—it is never enough,” Henderson said. “An alcoholic can say I am just having one beer tonight and then [are] unable to stop. That is the illness of the addiction, it has a hold on them that is hard to break away from.”

Casinos are infamous for their tricks to keep people inside and spending money for as long as possible. Casinos have a unique design because there are purposely no exit signs, windows, straight walls or right turns. According to the Guardian, these design choices are done with the intention for people to get lost and confused when trying to find the exit. When a person is trying to find the exit they will have to walk through multiple games or machines tempting their attention. Combined with the free alcoholic drinks and no clocks or windows, people are meant to lose track of time and stay for hours longer than they were planning.

“The casinos do a lot of different things to keep customers gambling” Wooden said. “They make sure to leave very limited windows and there are no clocks in the building, so you lose track of time. Casinos also pump oxygen into the building and constantly have cocktails revolving around to keep people awake and alert. There are always bright lights in any area where people are playing. You’ll never see a dark, dim gambling area.”

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