By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

Gaming can mean too much of a good thing

Almost two-thirds of Oregon adolescents say they’ve already had some exposure to gambling.

State lottery games are readily accessible to the youth set, and are proving a popular draw, particularly for boys. The latest data on Oregon students shows they get their first taste of gaming as early as sixth grade, and it becomes a preferred activity in some circles.

What’s more, youths who gamble are much more likely to become involved in risky behavior of other types, said Rebecca Heuser, a prevention coordinator at Yamhill County Health and Human Services. 

The combination of nearly unfettered access to the Internet and a culture that doesn’t consider gambling particularly dangerous concerns her, she said.

“Our culture doesn’t typically address the dangers of gambling,” she said. In addition, she added, we tend to engage in activities that normalize gambling, like school bingo nights, casino night fundraisers, office or school sports pools and buy-a-chance raffles. 

As a result, Heuser said, Yamhill County is home to an estimated 3,000 problem gamblers by itself. And she said, “It’s a real addiction, so quitting is not just a matter of self control.”

The brain of a problem gambler mimics that of an alcoholic or drug addict. The act of gambling stimulates the same pleasure centers as do alcohol and drug highs, she said, and the earlier the initial exposure, the more likely it is to lead to addiction.

“Gambling is a thrill-seeking behavior just like driving too fast,” Heuser said. “The more you do it, the more you want to do it. And it can lead to other dangerous things.”

It also undercuts the practical matter of teaching kids financial responsibility. “Your credit is attached to everything, and it reflects if you’ve been responsible or not,” she said. 

Heuser urged parents to be watchful for telltale signs, like odd charges on a credit card, gambling app downloads and online computer play.

“Parents should talk to them about not betting more than they can risk losing, that kind of thing,” she said.

With online gaming, she said, a simple click allows access into a world where sites will bankroll people initially to get them on the hook. It’s easy to get sucked in.

“A part of prevention is to increase protective factors and decrease risk factors,” Heuser said.

“We need people to understand that small consequences, over time, can grow into larger ones. We need to look at how we think about gambling and what messages we are sending to our children.”

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