The Bet Stops Here

by Marnie Macauley July 27, 2017


advice-augWe Jews have been known to play a game or two, both for fun, and, in older times, to deflect spies.

Times have changed. I now have teen clients who are not only gamblers, but problem gamblers, a serious and often hidden issue. Unlike booze or drugs, you can’t see it. You can’t smell it. According to the National Institutes of Health, in the U.S. the median rate of reported past-year gambling was 65 percent.

Dr. Howard Shaffer of Harvard Medical School reports that the rate of problem gambling for youths ranged between 9.9 percent and 14.2 percent, while an additional 4.4 percent to 7.4 percent were in the red zone of problem gambling. They start as early as middle school. And given their neurological impulsivity, the younger the kids start, the more likely they are to become problem gamblers – three to four times more likely than adults. “But underage gambling is illegal,” parents say.

Internet gambling takes little more than “acquiring” or “borrowing” a credit card. In 2010 the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that monthly use of internet gambling sites among college-age males were 16 percent with a whopping 20 percent playing online poker at least monthly (1.7 million kids). Sports betting is especially popular among young gamblers.

Why Young People Gamble

Millennials are inundated with “acceptable” legal gaming ops that are heavily promoted in the U.S. Between the prevalence of gambling on tv, radio, billboards, and online, and the associated excitement of the fast “win” makes for “hot ticket” reality tv.

Teens are attracted to the thrill and hope of fast money, fulfilling their desire for instant gratification. Plus the fun of “beating the system” and socializing is a thrill in itself.

Along with other values, teens are acquisitive. Rather than building internal values, many find $350 dollar designer sneakers an easy “fix” for developing egos.

Those who struggle with depression and boredom seek ways to numb pain or make them feel – something.

Children whose parents gamble, or say “encourage” gambling by buying lottery tickets for their children are offering tacit approval. Even some organizations and schools don’t get it. Casino nights, even for charity, set the Wheel of Disfortune in motion.

Higher Risk

Columbia University Medical Center’s research indicates that teenagers comprise half of the 16 million people in the United States with gambling addictions. The “job” of the teenager is to struggle and find their identity. This, at a time when their brain is not yet completely hard-wired for impulse control. When the “roll of the dice” factors into their self-image, it’s a dicey deal and can turn a teen swiftly from feeling like a “winner” to a “loser” – with dramatic consequences that include financial fear, stealing, chasing to win back all that is lost and depression.

As losses grow, esteem declines and problems multiply. When gambling becomes a lifestyle, grades and relationships slip, as life becomes about the action – action that’s a tragic roller coaster of highs and lows.

Warning Signs

Here are some red flags:

The sudden need for money.

Things of value missing from home.

Strange charges on credit cards or online activity.

Indications of consistent “borrowing.”

Withdrawal from friends, family, outside activities and interests.

Sudden interest in sports teams with excessive watching of outcomes, along with great joy or upset.

Missing school or classes with a sudden downturn in grades.

Secrecy, more computer time, late night calls.

Sudden wealth.

Lies or cover-up stories that don’t make sense to account for the above.


The most important thing parents can do is notice. Oddly, I’ve found among parents and even peers that youth gambling is not always suspected. The signs, taken several at a time, should sound the “gambling problem” alarm.

Do not, even innocently, model gambling behavior or consider it “no big deal.”

TALK. Share what you know about “quick fixes,” “gambling failures,” “consequences,” and the danger of online gambling. Show them how the world has encouraged false values, and hyped “luck” and “winning” at all costs.

Set limits and boundaries on computer access, and borrowing. Encourage internal growth and concern for others and the world around them. Step in early if you suspect a problem. Impart your Jewish values.

According to Rabbi Eliezer Danzinger, “In the Talmud, the rabbis take a dim view about gambling. Besides being a risky enterprise financially, and addictive, the rabbis say that the winner is really a loser. Morally speaking that is. How so? Because the fellow with the inferior hand wasn’t expecting to lose. Therefore, the loser relinquishes his money reluctantly – it’s being taken from him willy-nilly, and he is getting nothing tangible in return. In simple English, it’s a bit like stealing.”

Get help EARLY! States and organizations offer help and provide referrals. Ask your rabbi, physician. You can also call Gamblers Anonymous International Service (626) 960-3500.

If we fail to take action now during the “fun” stage, parents and children may have to deal with horrific consequences when the fun stops.


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