Here We Go Again
Sigh, another day, another half-assed (well, quarter-assed) article about the dangers of gambling. As I've said before, I'm not saying that gambling addiction doesn't exist. I'm not saying it isn't a potentially destructive vice. I'm not saying that it's OK for 13-year-olds to play blackjack. But if we're going to discuss the issue, we need to be diligent about the facts and examine them with clear yet critical eye.
Which didn't occur in an article that appeared in today's San Diego Union-Tribune
(Google news alerts are addictive). We get the usual anecdotes, the usual anonymous "studies", the "experts" whose vague statements are taken as gospel truth. Statements like this one:
“This is the first generation of kids growing up in a gambling-permissive society,” said Bruce Roberts, head of the California Council on Problem Gambling(.)
Is this accurate? I don't think so. I played poker with my uncles and cousins when I was growing up. My dad brought home football pools from work for me to fill out for fun. The state lotteries existed when I was a kid. Seemed like society permitted gambling back then. It's true that gambling is more pervasive and more popular these days, with casinos springing up all over the country and the winners of SuperMegaHyper national lotteries becoming the lead story on CNN. But kids today aren't the first to live in a gambling-permissive society. No way.
From Charlene Simmons, the assistant director of the California Research Bureau (they do the research on EVERYTHING in California?) we learn that underage gambling is a "serious issue". Ms. Simmons:
Studies have found that “adolescents, particularly boys, who engage in adult forms of gambling are more likely to develop into problem and pathological gamblers,” she told members of a state Senate committee last week.
Data collected in Oregon suggest “California could have as many as 600,000 adolescent problem and pathological gamblers,” Simmons said.
I know I sound like a broken record, but...WHAT STUDIES? Conducted by who? Whom, sorry. And the statement "data collected in Oregon suggest CALIFORNIA could have as many as 600,000 adolescent problem and pathological gamblers" does NOT fill me with confidence. Why use data from another state to analyze California teens? And the 600,000 number sounds ABSURDLY high. California's total population is around 37 million. Ms. Simmons is saying that around 1.6% of California's ENTIRE POPULATION is a degenerate teenage gambler. One out of 63 people. Before I believe that, I need a lot more information.
So the statistics aren't good, and the anecdotal evidence ain't much better:
It's unclear how prevalent gambling is among high school students.
“We have quite a few students who are active in gaming and gambling,” said Scott Chodorow, director of student activities at Torrey Pines. “To what extent, I do not know.”
I don't mean to pick on a high school kid who was probably nervous talking to a reporter. But that reporter should've known better than use this quote. Lead him into a more logical statement than the one used here. Basically what we have here is, "Kids here gamble...I think. Actually, I have no clue".
Perhaps the most outrageous statement in the piece came from Fred Becker, described as a Carlsbad educator. After making some reasonable statements about kids being more likely to take risks and that they don't always think long-term, he makes this baseless accusation:
Local Indian casinos are on the lookout for young gamblers, Becker said.
Um, that's a pretty serious charge. Any evidence to support this? Nope, the reporter just throws that line in there with no preamble. Oddly, this is the very next paragraph:
At Viejas, for instance, those 17 and younger are allowed on the casino floor only if they're walking to a restaurant with an adult, and not at all after 8 p.m. or before 8 a.m., said spokesman Robert Scheid.
The reporter seems to present this as evidence that Indian casinos DO target young gamblers (hence the "for instance") but the quote is from a casino spokesman saying that people 17 and younger aren't allowed on the casino floor unless they're going to dinner AND accompanied by an adult. Very strange.
It's also strange that in the middle of the piece Ms. Simmons is quoted as saying, "as far as I could find out, no California lottery retailer, racetrack or card room has been seriously disciplined for allowing . . . minors to engage in gambling,", while we don't read until the final paragraphs the attitude of the casino spokesman Robert Scheid:
It has trained staff members to look for underage and problem gamblers, he said.
“Ultimately, they're destructive to themselves, their families and their communities,” he said. “Frankly, it's not good for business.”
I've never been to Commerce or the Bicycle Club, but I assume they card people who look like teenyboppers but show up to play poker. Not that I would assume this, if I were a reporter--I'd call them up and ask how they keep the underage out. I'd also double-check Ms. Simmons' statement about there being no action taken against those who let minors gamble. Is that true? Why should we rely on her research? Shouldn't the reporter have done his own?
I guess these little screeds are more about the state of journalism these days than the debate about the evils of gambling. It's easy to snip at reporters who don't fact-check or think or ask follow-up questions, and I know there are deadline pressures and whatnot. I sympathize. But...come on! When someone tells you that there might be 600,000 problem teenage gamblers, you're B.S. detector has to start chiming. "Really? That many? How do you know that?" That should be automatic. But these days, it isn't.