Editorial: Scratch-offs are bad gifts for kids

Introducing them to children could lead to gambling addiction later in life
A lottery scratch-off ticket sold in New York, Dec. 21, 2010.
A lottery scratch-off ticket sold in New York, Dec. 21, 2010.

So you’re thinking about giving scratch-off lottery tickets to the kids on your Christmas list.

Eh, what’s the harm, right?

They’re cheap. It doesn’t take much imagination or thought; you don’t have to know the kids’ likes or dislikes.

You can get cards with a holiday theme, with snowmen and candy canes on them. You can buy them at most convenience stores as a last-minute gift to slip into a Christmas card, which you can either send to your nephews and grandchildren across the country or hand out when you’re visiting family. 

And who doesn’t love the fun and anticipation of scraping that gray layer of stuff off the card with a coin to reveal a prize that could make you rich?

As with cigarettes, alcohol and fast cars, these things are marketed in a flashy, harmless looking manner, with candy canes and snowmen and Santa.

It’s really tempting to break down and buy them for that hard-to-buy-for kid on your list. And that’s why giving them as gifts is particular dangerous.

The Responsible Play Partnership, made of up of the New York Lottery and other state agencies, the National Council on Problem Gambling, the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services and the World Lottery Association are among those organizations warning adults that giving out lottery tickets as gift cards is a bad idea.

The first message it sends to kids is that gambling is a game. For responsible adults who drop into the casino for a few hands of blackjack or a few spins on a slot machine, it can be just that. 

But kids’ brains don’t work that way.

Physiologically, the part of the brain that allows adults to make responsible judgments isn’t fully developed in children and adolescents. That’s why kids do idiotic, risky things without considering the short- or long-term consequences.

The risks they take with gambling at a young age could hurt them in the long run. Tons of studies back that up.

According to the International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High Risk Behaviors at McGill University, the earlier children begin gambling, the more likely they are to develop gambling problems as adults.  

According to the California Council on Problem Gambling, gambling among children and teens acts as a gateway to other negative behaviors.

Studies in Delaware and other states have concluded that adolescent pathological gambling is associated with alcohol and drug use, truancy, low grades, problematic gambling in parents, and illegal activities to finance gambling.

While most children who receive lottery tickets do not develop gambling problems, according to the International Center, research has found that those who do receive lottery tickets as gifts are more likely to develop a severe problem than those who do not.

Why take the risk?

When an adult gives lottery tickets to kids as gifts, the kids interpret that as being a safe activity. But research has shown that it’s not.

Rather than give them lottery tickets, give them something else of equal value. A gift certificate to their favorite store or the local mall. Throw a few bucks in the card instead.

Even though you can’t purchase paper savings bonds anymore, you can buy them electronically through the U.S. Treasury Department and notify the recipient through a gift card. It’s not as flashy as a scratch-off ticket, but it’s a solid investment in their future.

It only takes one match to start a conflagration. Don’t light that match by giving out lottery tickets as gifts to kids.

When you consider the consequences, you’ll realize they’re not such a great gift after all.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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