Montgomery County

Gearing up to fight youth gambling

As developers move forward with the construction of three casinos in upstate New York, Catholic Char

As developers move forward with the construction of three casinos in upstate New York, Catholic Charities of Fulton & Montgomery Counties is joining 19 other community organizations across the state this year in an effort to reduce youth gambling addiction.

Organizers say the initiative is not a reaction to the state’s legalization of casino gambling in 2013, but add that the move has brought some much-needed attention to the problem.

“This is actually the fourth year we’ve done mini-grants to local providers working on a number of issues,” said Jaime Costello, special programs manager and prevention specialist at the New York Council on Problem Gambling, which backs the programs. “But I think it may be a reason that some more agencies jumped on board, because I think the development of the casinos has helped raise awareness of problem gambling.”

As with any potential addiction, young people are particularly vulnerable to problem gambling, according to NYCPG. The new program, called You(th) Decide NY, aims to educate parents, educators and community leaders to intervene early to prevent problems later on.

Bridget Rocco, the You(th) Decide Problem Gambling Prevention Coordinator at Catholic Charities of Fulton & Montgomery Counties, said the program consists of three general approaches: educating young people directly about the dangers of gambling, raising awareness of the problem at community events, and partnering with community leaders to promote good decision-making.

“Underage gambling is illegal and it’s not safe,” said Costello. “So we’re really working to try to raise awareness among communities and get communities ready to make some changes when it comes to underage gambling.”

According to statistics provided by NYCPG, 68 percent of people between the ages of 14 and 21 have gambled in the last year — that can be lottery tickets, card and dice games, online games or sports betting, said Costello.

“I couldn’t say which came first, the chicken or the egg, but we know that gambling addiction, other addictions and other risky behaviors are interrelated,” she said. “Underage gambling can pose a number of threats to young people: the obvious, like missing school, dropping grades, changing peer groups. It can also lead to things like anxiety, depression, other mental health issues. Suicidal attempts are highest among problem gamblers, higher than any other group. Youths who gamble are also more at risk for other addictions and risky behavior, such as unprotected sex, alcohol drinking and abuse of other substances.”

Young people get into gambling for a variety of reasons, she said. Genetic predisposition plays a role, but so does environment and upbringing, which is why the You(th) Decide program focuses on education — both educating young people about the risks and educating parents and community leaders about how to recognize problems early on.

“We find that with gambling addiction, a lot of people gamble because they don’t understand the true probabilities and the true risks,” said Costello. “They think that lucky charms make a difference in the outcome of something when they really don’t, things like that. So we’re working on correcting those misperceptions among youth about gambling.”

Some warning signs include changes in behavior like anxiety or depression, borrowing or stealing money, absences from school, and unexplained money or a “showy” attitude with money or new things.

Someone who suspects a underaged gambling problem should first talk with the youth about it, Rocco recommended, then contact the New York State HOPEline (1-877-8-HOPENY), which offers assistance and resources for treating gambling addiction.

The Catholic Charities’ You(th) Decide program is funded with a $15,000 grant from NYCPG and runs from Feb. 1 to October.

Both Rocco and Costello stressed that NYCPG and You(th) Decide NY take a neutral stance on adult gambling. Rocco said with the development of casinos upstate, she expects problem gambling to rise at first, which makes awareness all the more important.

“When anything is more accessible, we all are more likely to do it,” she said.

“So I think more people will be trying it and more people will be doing it. I think we may see a spike in problems related to gambling addiction. But on the flip side, the casino development process has really raised awareness about problem gambling among the industry and among the community.”

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