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More youths are buying the gambling dream

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One afternoon recently, three young men who looked like teen-agers were stopped by a Monitor reporter as they left one of the premier gambling casinos here. The legal age for gambling here is 21; they were were 18, 19, and 20. Did they have any problem getting in?

``One place checked us [for identification], but with two others we had no problem,'' one of them said.

They are apparently not alone, as the casinos' own statistics show; and, if the experts are right, they are all playing a dangerous game.

New Jersey is busy ``breeding a generation of gamblers,'' says Robert J. Klein, former director of the New Jersey Council on Compulsive Gambling. Many of them (no one can predict how many) will not be able to keep themselves from gambling, he says, and will wind up destroying their lives and those of the people they are close to. Family, friends, employers, and even the state will feel the cost, as compulsive gamblers borrow, embezzle, or steal to feed their addiction. If they cease to contribute as taxpayers and end up on welfare rolls or in penitentiaries, the cost goes even higher.

``Children in this state are growing up with the understanding that gambling is a perfectly acceptable form of social communion; and that I find bizarre,'' says Carl Zeitz, a member of the state's Casino Control Commission. ``But that is what we've done.''

Arnold Wexler, a nationally recognized expert on the subject, says the compulsive-gambling problem among young people here is serious, and it is growing: ``Fifteen to 20 percent of all people seeking help nationwide are under the age of 21, and the figure is undoubtedly higher in New Jersey, because of the widespread availability of gambling here.''

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