July 16, 2010
By Paul Post
SARATOGA SPRINGS — State and local officials gathered Friday, a week before Saratoga Race Course opens, to address the growing problem of underage gambling.
Local high school freshmen and sophomores are 20 percent more apt to face such challenges than teens of similar age throughout New York, a state study says.
Saratoga Springs has more gaming venues — the racecourse, Saratoga Gaming & Raceway’s racino — than most cities its size, in addition to easily accessible temptations found everywhere, such as supermarket vending machines that sell Lottery scratch-off tickets.
“Exposing kids to gambling at a young age just increases their likelihood of having problem gambling later on,” said Heather Kisselback, executive director of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Council of Saratoga County. “Kids, especially teens who are so impulsive, feel like nothing can happen to them.”
Younger teens are especially vulnerable, she said.
Saratoga Race Course is a fun, family place, but parents need to keep a watchful eye on young people to make sure they don’t try to use self-service betting machines illegally. Also, young children shouldn’t be encouraged to make even small, “make-believe” bets on races, Kisselback said.
A 2008 poll conducted by the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services found that 49 percent of Saratoga County youths in grades seven through 12 have gambled in the past year. Males are four times as likely as females to have a problem.
“With greater acceptance of gambling and increased access, there is increasing risk for problem and pathological gambling,” said Mary Silberstein of the New York Association of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Providers. “It is imperative that we increase prevention efforts.”
The agency says the state shouldn’t allow any more casinos or new gambling opportunities without committing a portion of such revenue to problem gambling services.
New York Racing Association polices automated betting machines to make sure underage people don’t use them. This year, posters will be placed throughout the track, discouraging young people from using such machines.
The Prevention Council was joined by state and NYRA officials and Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy III at a Friday press conference at the racecourse.
Kisselback said the council has a variety of in-school programs to deal with underage gambling, the same as drinking, smoking and substance abuse. “It’s the same scenario,” she said. “We haven’t addressed this issue until now.”
Informal sports betting, such as basketball and football pools, are extremely popular among young people, she said.
The council also hosts workshops to help parents recognize and deal with such problems.
Anyone with a gambling problem may call the state’s 24-hour HOPEline at 1-877-8HOPENY.