Research indicates as many as 88% of adult Iowans gamble, but state officials have begun to focus on teenage gambling.
Mark Vander Linden, coordinator of the Iowa Gambling Treatment program, says Iowa teens were surveyed in November and December, but the results aren’t yet available. "In general, I can draw on youth prevalence surveys in Nebraska, New York, Arizona," Vander Linden says. "Youth are at incredibly high risk for problem gambling."
The New York survey found 10 percent of teenagers in the Empire State were "problem" gamblers. According to Vander Linden, that is significantly higher than the number of adults who are addicted gamblers, and that’s why the Iowa survey of teenagers was launched. "That informs us that even before these results are released, we need to pay attention to that," Vander Linden says.
Iowa law bars anyone under the age of 21 from gambling at the state-licensed casinos and you must be 21 to buy a lottery ticket, but Vander Linden says teens aren’t gambling in the typical ways adults do. "By and large, what we’re seeing is it’s either on-line poker of Texas Hold ‘Em in parents’ basements," Vander Linden says. "You’re seeing, and this is anecdotal…but you’re seeing craps during school." Craps is a game played with dice.
Research indicates many adults who say they’re gambling addicts started wagering when they were teenagers. Vander Linden says Iowa gambling treatment counselors now work with teenagers who say they’ve got a problem. In addition, state officials like Vander Linden are trying to devise ways to get schools to start talking with students about the dangers of gambling. "A lot of schools say, ‘You know what, we have a lot of requirements that we need to get done,’ and so it’s difficult," Vander Linden says. "’Hence one of the strategic plan components that we’re looking at is why don’t we take a look at developing what are, nationally, the best practices in presentation for specific age groups, for specific grade levels and try to partner at a different level, at the Department of Education level, as opposed to trying to go at that lower level and begin making inroads in that way. I think it’s really important to reach this population."
Vander Linden testified Thursday before the House State Government Committee. Listen to all of what he had to say by clicking on the audio link below.