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 Many Indiana Teens are Gambling

Survey of 3,270 Hoosier students showing that 90 percent had wagered was in line with national poll.

Indianapolis Star/News
INDIANAPOLIS (July 10, 1998) -- Large numbers of underage students have played scratch-off lottery games, gambled on bingo or played video poker, according to a survey of 3,270 Indiana middle- and high-school students. The findings of the survey, released Friday by Louisiana State University, are in line with those of other studies on adolescent gambling behavior. Because of a low level of cooperation from Indiana school corporations, the results only reflect problems of the 3,300 students surveyed and can't be said to reflect behaviors of all Indiana students. Like last year's Harvard Medical School study of gambling behaviors in the United States and Canada, the LSU survey found that Indiana students were much more likely to develop problem or pathological gambling behaviors than adults.

"That's the good and bad of it," said Tom Rich, assistant deputy director in the Office of Transitional Services at the Indiana Division of Mental Health. "The good is it's no different than the national statistics. The bad is that the national statistics are so high." Overall, the study found that 90 percent of the Indiana students had gambled at some point in their lives, about 7 percent more than in the Harvard study. While the Indiana number is higher, it is within the margin of error of the Harvard study, which means the findings are statistically similar. The survey also found that 11.2 percent of the students had "level 2" gambling problems, defined as gambling that results in moderate personal or social consequences.

That's slightly lower, but statistically similar to the Harvard findings. About 7.5 percent of the Indiana students showed "level 3" pathological behavior, indicating their life pursuits had been disrupted by gambling. That's higher than the Harvard results, but, again, there is no statistical difference. Level 3 gamblers acknowledge certain behaviors, like lying about losing money at gambling or losing money and trying to win it back the next day. Of the students who said they had gambled, 64.7 percent said they had played instant, or scratch-off, lottery games. Only about 400, or 12 percent, of the survey sample had reached their 18th birthdays. The survey found that more than 2,000 of the students had played the scratch-off lottery games, and at least 47 percent of the students that said they played these games were underage. The survey, however, didn't ask if the students bought the tickets. It is not illegal for minors to play the lottery; it is only illegal for them to buy or cash in the ticket. 

The Hoosier Lottery has safeguards in place to prevent or discourage play by minors, said lottery spokesman Andrew Reed. But that doesn't mean that some minors haven't managed to buy tickets from some vendors. "We would be naive to say that wasn't happening," said Reed, who had not yet reviewed the new study. The high number of scratch-off players was the "main thing that concerned me," said Cecile Guin, who headed the LSU study. The limitations of the study make it impossible to say this is a statewide problem, but the survey should be used to determine the focus of future studies, she said.

The study released Friday also showed gambling behaviors by Indiana adults are statistically the same as the national numbers. This report, along with a study due next week on suggestions on how to prevent gambling addictions, are part of a package being done by LSU for $430,000.Bingo, a charitable game regulated by the state, attracted the wagers of 38.5 percent of the students, the survey said.

Video poker, which is illegal in Indiana except on riverboat casinos, had been played by 36.1 percent of the students. According to the survey, however, only 2.4 percent of the students had been on a riverboat casino and 4 percent had been in a land-based casino like those in Las Vegas. But that doesn't mean that 30 percent or more played these games illegally in Indiana bars or social clubs.

"They're in every household with the Internet," noted Indiana State Police Sgt. David Bursten. Also some students might have been boasting about playing video poker, or decided playing electronic poker at home was the same as gambling on a video poker machine, said Marieanne Hollay, the statistician for the LSU study.
For gambling activity that isn't licensed by the state, playing cards for money was the most common at 52.3 percent. Betting on sports teams was second at 48.4 percent.

For the most part, adolescents, like adults, are infrequent gamblers who exhibit no adverse effects on their lives from placing an occasional bet. That's what makes it easy for parents to give children lottery tickets as gifts or allow them to gamble on a game of chance on "casino night" at a local church, Rich said. But the LSU study shows that a large percentage of students have problems when they gamble and that they're more likely to develop a problem than an adult. "It's just not the lottery and it's just not parents, it's the whole culture," Rich said. "All this is not as innocent as it seems."