IN middle school, most kids learn about numbers in algebra
class. Thirteen year-old Mike S. learned about them by gambling.
At first, his habit cost him a few dollars a week. It started
small, minor bets placed on professional sports games as part of a
pool at his part-time job. Then he got the phone number of a
"bookie" and began placing his own bets. Four years after he
started, Mike racked up a gambling IOU of $12,000 in just one week.
Teenage gambling is not new. But experts believe it is quietly
on the rise, fed by an increasing acceptance of it in society.
Casinos and state lotteries abound. Bookies give easy credit to
teens. And mortified parents are paying off their kids' gambling
debts, concerned about the risk of mafia-style reprisals.
"No question, it's a national problem," says Kathleen Scanlan,
program director of the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive
Gambling. "We are absolutely seeing more teenage gamblers," says
Tony Milillo, coordinator of the Compulsive Gambling Program at the
Belmont Center for Comprehensive Treatment in Philadelphia.
And gambling can push teens to extremes: To cover large losses,
teens may "start to borrow money from their girlfriends, then steal
money and jewelry from their parents, and then start to break into
houses and cars," says Edward Looney, executive director of the
Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey Inc.
But it is hard to quantify the size of the problem. In the Bay
State, for example, Sgt. Thomas Foley of the state police force
says parents are often reluctant to take their children to
law-enforcement agencies. "More of them are convinced to pay off
their children's debts," says Sergeant Foley. Contributing to the
quiet acquiescence is the fear that the money is owed to an
A recent Harvard Medical School survey found that between 6.4
and 8.5 percent of suburban Boston high school students surveyed
were classified as compulsive gamblers. Among the 75 percent who
said they had gambled, 32.5 percent placed their first bet before
the age of 11. Fifty-six percent started between 11 and 15.
The casino industry says it too is concerned about illegal teen
betting and tries to stop underage gamblers before they get on
casino floors. But Tom Brosig, executive vice president for
Plymouth, Minn.-based Grand Casinos Inc., concedes the gambling
institutions aren't always successful. He says parents need to take
more responsibility. "They think if their kids get caught at
gambling, it's no big deal," he says.
That teenagers are into betting is not surprising to Police
Chief Robert DeLitta of Nutley, N. …