Kevin Liu’s addiction costs less than $2 at a grocery store. And most households keep his high in their junk drawers. Liu’s story on how he got hooked on a deck of cards begins like most other gamblers: When he was a teenager.
“We wanted to hang out and we wanted to come up with something interesting,” the 30-year-old Gilbert resident said. “So, we started gambling.”
Liu gambled for the first time on a beach in New York with some friends when he was 15. But many teenagers don’t have to leave their homes to learn how to bet against the odds. All they have to do is log on. Access to the Internet during summer breaks increases the risk of teenagers gambling online illegally, according to Rick Pyper, director of the Arizona Office of Problem
“For many, that is very dangerous,” he said. “That is how they are going to gamble, rather than sneaking into a casino if they are underage.” Therapists who treat compulsive gamblers warn parents that there are thousands of unrestricted gambling Web sites.
“They can go online and punch in your credit card number and nobody will know,” said Renee Siegel, the clinical director of the ABC Wellness Center in Scottsdale, which treats gambling addicts. “(It’s) the free sites that gets you to practice your skill and get your guts about you. You feel good about it. It’s just like a video game. You can just sit in your own home and do your own thing.”
Siegel said that depending on the Web site, descriptions on credit card statements may not indicate that charges came from online gambling.
Several therapists from the center said adults with the most severe gambling addictions usually began betting with pennies at age 10 during family games.
They said that parents often allow gambling in their homes to entice teenagers to stay home, rather than going out to party.
Soon adolescents progress to poker nights in the basement, blackjack during school breaks, and dollars for instant lottery tickets.
Matt Sondreaal, 21, started playing blackjack with his dad when he was in fourth grade.
Then, it was tournament pools during basketball season in high school, his first poker game his freshman year of college, and now, 15 hours a week playing online poker.
“I was pretty competitive in high school. I used to play baseball year-round,” he said.
“I can’t do that anymore in college, so poker is that fix for me.”
According to a 2005 study from The Annenberg Public Policy Center of The
University of Pennsylvania, card playing for money increased among males aged 14 to 22. In 2004, roughly 13 percent of the 1,500 respondents nationwide stated that they bet on cards at least weekly, according to a news release. In 2003, it was 11.7 percent.
Mike Horne, an eighthgrade science teacher at Gilbert Junior High School, said he sees students playing and talking about gambling in school.
“It’s not just necessarily about the cards, but about sports, also,” he said. “I can’t say I see it as being rampant. I’m sure it’s in the high schools a lot worse.”
The therapists said that the most at-risk adolescents are smart, competitive, outgoing males — but that recently more women are moving away from the slot machines to the card tables.
The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission included gambling questions in its survey to teenagers.
The data, expected to be released this fall, will give the state its first glimpse at adolescent gambling habits.
Until then, there is no clear picture of how many Arizona teens are taking their chances.
“It’s not about that behavior being wrong,” Siegel said. “It’s about recognizing when that behavior creates consequences that interfere with your life.”
For Matt Horton, 21, playing poker is just another way to socialize.
The Mesa resident said he’s been playing poker with his friends for years on the weekends making bets from 50 cents to $1.
“It’s so much excitement,” he said. “It’s just a fascinating game and the money is nice, and getting together with friends and having a good time. It’s definitely competitive — that is one of the fun things about it.”