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Kevin Smith

NATI Program Addresses Poker and Underage Gambling

25 May 2005

In an effort to raise awareness among parents, educators and youths, the North American Training Institute has rolled out a new educational program aimed at teens who play poker.

With its "Kids Don't Gamble. . . Wanna Bet?" series, NATI is hoping to spread awareness of the rising number of teens who are becoming addicted to gambling, many of them getting hooked as a result of the meteoric rise in poker.

NATI CEO Elizabeth George said the recent poker craze carries all the elements that appeal to kids and young adults.

"Poker has gotten a lot of attention over the last two years," George said. "It is on ESPN and nearly every other cable network. The players are promoted as celebrities and stars; there is a 'get rich quick' feel to the game, and then there is the Hollywood aspect with players like Ben Affleck and other stars playing it. All of these are exactly what drives kids to the game."

Add to the mix the infiltration of online poker sites, George said, and youths have more exposure to poker than ever before.

While there is no scientific evidence of an increase in youths getting hooked on the game, George said there's plenty of anecdotal evidence. She said a group in New York set up a help line targeting youth only a few years ago, and its first year in operation got no calls. Last year the group had to expand its efforts and now has a whole campaign geared toward promoting the line due to its increased activity over the last two years.

NATI has developed an 11-part series that can be used in its entirety or broken into individual classes if a teacher has 20 minutes to fill in a lesson plan.

One of the highlights of the program is an 11-minute video called "Andy's Story," which profiles an 18-year-old whose poker addition costs him a college football scholarship and lands him in jail after he resorts to criminal activity to finance his habit.

George said the video gets kids' attention.

"A football scholarship is the gold ring to junior high and high school kids," George said. "When they hear about this kid losing it all over poker and his addiction, you really see some eyes get wide open, and kids start to pay attention to what they are hearing."

The curriculum also includes a resource guide for educators as well as overhead transparencies, a bibliography, a gambling fact sheet, a brief history of gambling, a parent letter and a resource list.

George says that youths playing poker has become an increased problem for her group and others that help educate and counsel problem gamblers and gambling operators, but is quick to point out that the online gambling industry has been at the forefront in helping tackle the issue.

"No company wants kids and minors to be playing on their online poker site," she said. "The Interactive Gaming Council and its members have been outstanding in addressing this issue and taking an active role in addressing it. And it isn't just a token gesture; they are serious about it and have gone out of their way to spread the message."

Education is the key, George said, as minors are three or four more times as likely to get addicted to gambling than adults. The problem is that there are no clear warning signs until it is often too late, she said.

"That doesn't mean that every kid who picks up a deck of cards is going to get addicted to poker," she said. "But parents, teachers, the industry, and of course kids themselves, have to know that youths are more susceptible to the addiction than older adults."

There are simple things that parents can do, George said, starting with monitoring children's Internet use and having computers in public areas in the house instead of in their rooms.

George would also like to see social norms toward gambling and poker change.

"We have heard stories of schools doing casino nights where they bring in craps tables and blackjack tables," she said. "If they had a kiddy cocktail night where kids were thought how to make the perfect martini, but without the alcohol they would be run out of town on rails."

Last year NATI launched, a site aimed at educating young children on gambling addiction. The site, which includes educational material for kids as well as cartoons and other elements that appeal to younger children, drew over 600,000 hits in 2004.

George believes the key to tackling problem gambling is approaching it with a group effort.

"It is a partnership between parents, the industry and kids themselves," she said. "The word 'epidemic' is so overused these days, but there has been a lot of media attention give to the issue and that only helps. This isn't an epidemic, and it is something that can be controlled if everyone does their part."

NATI Program Addresses Poker and Underage Gambling is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith