New report indicates a dramatic rise in the number of teens attracted by dice, cards, and lotteries.
America is producing an entire generation of young people unaware of the dangers of gambling.
Experts say gambling at colleges and universities has reached epidemic proportions and that an ever-larger pool of children from the elementary grades through high school are turning to dice, cards, lotteries, and - if they can get in - casinos as a perceived ticket to prestige and fortune.
"It is festering at the high school level and an epidemic at college," says Edward Looney, director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey Inc.
Most forms of gambling such as lotteries, casinos, and high-stakes bingo are restricted to those age 18 or 21. But such laws have done little to prevent kids from organizing their own games of chance, playing poker at the back of the school bus, placing a wager on the weekend football game, or even flipping quarters for lunch money.
It is a reflection of the growing public acceptance of gambling as a form of entertainment rather than vice, experts say. That acceptance is driven, at least in part, by highly seductive advertisements for state-sponsored lotteries such as the recent $295 million Powerball jackpot.
In the same way that some teens are drawn to alcohol and tobacco, they are also drawn to gambling. But there is one big difference, experts say. Today, there is widespread recognition among parents, teachers, policy makers, and others of the dangers of alcohol and tobacco consumption by teens and children. In contrast, similar recognition does not yet exist about the long-term detrimental effects of gambling by teens, experts say.
"Adults don't know the dangers," says Elizabeth George, executive director of the North American Training Institute, an education arm of the Minnesota Council on Compulsive Gambling. "Our young people are at an elevated risk, and there is very little public awareness."