How to play your cards right: Don’t gamble underage

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How to play your cards right: Don’t gamble underage

photo courtesy of Google under the Creative Commons license

photo courtesy of Google under the Creative Commons license

photo courtesy of Google under the Creative Commons license

Sophia Masi, Pioneer yearbook managing editor

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When I interviewed a sophomore at my high school to get his opinion on underage gambling, he explained to me the basics of betting, and how prevalent it is with teens of all ages. While talking about his March Madness bracket, because of my little knowledge on bets, I asked what was the point of betting small amounts of money. He told me even putting ten bucks on a game increases the excitement of competition and makes the person feel a rise in confidence if they win. He also mentioned he knew someone underage in a fraternity and how the fraternity makes large bets and is in contact with a big time bookmaker. This conversation made me realize the legitimacy of underage gambling and how people need to be informed of the risks.

“Putting money on a game just increases the legitimacy of it. If you just talk smack the whole week and don’t bet then your pride is just at risk. But, when you bet money it takes it to another level of competition,” one Kirkwood High School sophomore said. “It gives you kind of a rush. You [get] more of a thrill when watching a game [knowing] that if someone makes this shot you win twenty bucks.

According to the group, Statistics Rehab International, over 80 percent of American adults have gambled at least once in their lifetime. Another survey by the group, Adolescent Gambling Prevention, found that over 80% of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 said they have gambled in the last 12 months. With the increasing prevalence of gambling, the online scene of gambling has grown as well. The global market size of online gambling is estimated to reach over $59 billion in profit by the year 2020 according to the Gambling Industry in the U.S. This enormous amount of profit from online gambling includes underage dollars as well.

“This group [of underage gamblers] shows a higher rate and degree of problem gambling in adulthood with more severe financial, relationship, social and mental health (depression, anxiety and co-occurring addictions) consequences than matched groups who report they started gambling in adulthood,” Raymond Fezzi, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), said. “Online gambling is much higher among the underage for the obvious reason they are not allowed in brick and mortar gambling establishments.”

The University of Rochester Medical Center agreed the rational part of one’s brain, the prefrontal cortex, is not normally developed until a person reaches their early twenties. The prefrontal cortex is a part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgement and awareness of long term consequences. Teenagers typically approach situations with a different part of the brain called the amygdala, where emotions are processed. Therefore, teens in certain scenarios, like underage gambling, are more likely to make decisions based on their emotions not on more rational thinking.

Underage individuals engaging in any activity, whether the usage of alcohol, drugs, or gambling puts them at greater risk for developing an addiction. Live Science reported in teens, the nucleus accumben where planning your actions and habit formation is linked to the feelings of rewards. Therefore, the reward or the “high,” from those certain activities can have a stronger influence in their decision making and what they do next, which can develop into unhealthy habits and potentially lead to addiction.

“Kids who have substance abuse issues or gambling issues are going to have a high rate of getting depression over a long term, impulsivity issues, substance abuse issues,” Dr. Carrie Medelman, psychology Kirkwood High School teacher, said.  “Habits are habits, and anything that is gonna be addictive, the pathways that form those habits are going to be the same.”

Missouri casinos have regulations in place to help prevent underage gambling. According to Missouri law, in order to enter a casino, one must demonstrate that they are at least 21 years of age with a valid ID. The casino industry also provides educational information to youth about the legal consequences of underage gambling. According to Missouri law, any person underage in Missouri, who disobeys or is caught in the act of gambling could be subjected to a $500 misdemeanor fine. Repeated offenders, can face additional misdemeanor charges that could result in one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Unfortunately, it is very challenging to manage and monitor underage online gambling because of the unlimited websites that offer it.


Gambling can be a very entertaining activity when engaged in responsibly. However, due to the under recognized problem of underage gambling, it is critical that we continue to educate our youth and make them more attentive to the consequences of this illegal activity. If yourself or someone you know is experiencing issues in underage gambling or legal gambling, please call this hotline 1-888-BETSOFF or contact a trusted adult or school counselor.