Is there a gambling-related toy for your child wrapped up under the tree? Even if a play poker game is on the kid’s wish list, one expert says you should steer clear of buying it. Mark Vander Linden, manager of the Gambling Treatment Program at the Iowa Department of Public Health, says that innocent-seeming game may be a child’s introduction to what could become a serious battle with a problem gambling habit.

Vander Linden says he wouldn’t recommend giving kids things like Texas Hold ‘Em poker sets or even lottery tickets. State health officials have urged parents in the past not let their kids munch on candy cigarettes as it might be setting them up to try the real things.

Likewise, Vander Linden says giving a kid a toy slot machine, dice or a deck of cards could be prodding them to sample gambling. "That’s an interesting way to look at it," Vander Linden says. "It’s definitely an introduction to gambling, it’s an introduction to the process whether or not money is being exchanged in that gambling process, it’s still showing them the games."

A recent study found 70-to-80% of adolescents questioned reported having gambled for money in the past year and nearly 30% reported gambling on a weekly basis. Vander Linden says it’s important parents are aware of the potential risks associated with gambling-related gifts.

Vander Linden says, "A lot of times, the onset of problem gambling begins in late adolescence to early 20s and that should be where we spend a lot of attention in our efforts to educate Iowans." Signs of problem gambling in youth include: bragging about wins or lying about losses, withdrawing from family and friends, increased interest in the outcome of sports or games, and personal or home items disappearing. For help or more information, call 800-Bets-Off or visit the  Bets Off website .