By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
TULARE COUNTY – A Tulare County-based program may be the state’s best bet in preventing youth from developing a gambling addiction.
Students from El Diamante High School and Sequoia High School in Visalia, as well as Hanford West High School, are working together to increase awareness of youth gambling in Tulare and Kings counties. The three local schools connected through Betting On Our Future (BOOF), a statewide program that supports students in 30 sites across California to develop a multimedia campaign to raise awareness of problem gambling.
Students began their advocacy work in the fall of 2018 with the administration of the BOOF Prevalence Survey to gain a snapshot of what underage gambling looks like in their local community. With the support of the California Friday Night Live Partnership, a statewide program operated by the Tulare County Office of Education, surveys were collected from 943 students in 28 counties across California; with almost half (413) of the surveys coming from Tulare and Kings counties. The survey shows that roughly 45% of local youth (ages 8-21) gamble on a monthly basis. Those who had gambled were twice as likely to know have a family member who is a regular gambler.
The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that in 2016, 2% of the US population, roughly 5.5 million people, experience out of control gambling addiction (2016 Survey of Problem Gambling Services in the United States). Nationwide, 10-14% of adolescents are at risk for developing a serious gambling problem.
The results of the study were announced at a May 29 press conference in the library at El Diamante High School in Visalia. Lynn Goodwin, program director for California Friday Night Live Partnership, said many people tend to normalize gambling in their every day lives. Many of may seem innocent, and for most it is, but Goodwin says it is a dangerous gamble for youth whose brains are not fully developed until the age of 24 or later. Introducing gambling before young brains fully develop increases the risk of addiction as young people are more likely to act impulsively and take unreasonable risks.
“It’s not uncommon for an alcoholic to take up gambling and vice versa,” Goodwin said. “In many ways, they are the same addictive behavior.”
Parlaying Into Action
In response to the survey, young people from each site created public service announcements and graphics to raise awareness of the issue.
Jason Hopper, the Arts, Media, and Entertainment teacher at Hanford West is a first-time BOOF advisor and worked with his freshman classes on the project. Many of his students made posters, others created public service announcements, and some launched an awareness campaign through various social media.
“BOOF gave my students the opportunity to use the skills they learn in class to make a difference in the real world,” Hopper said. “By using a Project Based Learning approach, students were able to really investigate the problem and develop solutions that make sense in their community.”
Hopper said students began to understand the psychology of gambling and what makes it a form of addiction. He said personal challenges, such as the Tide pod challenge, are not always about money but contribute to forming a habit of risky behavior that can lead to gambling.
“A big loss is just as thrilling as a big win, even if we are talking about $5, or bragging rights,” Hopper said.
Ayden Stone, a Hanford West freshman, shared that students learned a lot about the effects of gambling addiction, “I was really shocked to [learn] all of the physical and mental effects it can have on a person, and I hope that the posters I created help spread awareness about gambling addiction because I don’t think many people take gambling addiction seriously.”
In addition to the multimedia components of the campaign, students spent time in their communities reaching out to local lottery merchants to re-educate them on the regulations and penalties when selling or paying out lottery tickets. Working with local merchants provided opportunities for youth advocacy and allowed young people to help shift social norms, all of which contributed to the reduction of underage and problematic gambling behaviors. This work provided unique opportunities for young people to engage different populations and gain diverse perspectives on the issue.
When El Diamante student Kanwar Singh reflected on the experience of working with a local lottery merchant, he shared, “…I felt moved by her… by the way she responded…I wasn’t expecting her to give her side of the story too, like how she would explain how she sees these young kids try to buy these scratchers too…I was surprised that she had seen that happen.”
Manuel Hernandez, a senior at El Diamante High School in Visalia, said his group drafted a pledge for local businesses to promise they would not sell lottery tickets, pay lottery prizes, or allow access of a lottery dispensing machine to anyone under the age of 18. Titled, “Not On My Watch!,” the pledge also states businesses will train their staff to identify false or fake IDs, not display advertising signage larger than is allowed by law, and to prominently post the pledge decal and poster in the business. Four businesses in Tulare County and two in Kings County agreed to sign the document.
“It’s not a small process for a student to go in and ask to the speak with the manager,” Goodwin said. “And it may take several tips to catch the right person, have that person understand what you are doing, and then sign off it.”
Gordon Boggs, a senior at Sequoia High School in Visalia, said gambling is often overlooked by parents, who are more concerned with more widespread addictions such as drugs, to 30-second public service announcement showing a teen who loses his temper and dismisses his girlfriend to play one more hand of poker.
“Gambling kind of goes under the radar,” Boggs said.
Goodwin said parents play a huge role in preventing gambling addiction. She said some parents may allow their teen to have a scratcher on their birthday, participate in Super Bowl squares, have Fantasy Football team, or even play card games for quarters. While this is harmless for about 98% of the population, it can send the wrong message that this behavior is normal.
“The goal is not to make gambling seem normal or exceptionally fun,” Goodwin said. “For those who may be addicted, there is a chemical reaction that comes with winning or losing that makes them more susceptible to that and other risky behaviors.”
The Long Bet
The Betting On Our Future program, funded by the California Office of Problem Gambling, has been supported through the Tulare County Office of Education (TCOE) for over 10 years and has created media tools utilized both locally and statewide to raise awareness of problem gambling. Tim A. Hire, Tulare County Superintendent of Schools, said, “Programs like BOOF create opportunities for young people to take a critical look at the issues facing them and their peers and give them an opportunity to take action. These skill-building opportunities will serve them throughout their life while creating healthier communities for all of us.”
Hire said Tulare County is in a unique position to take the lead on issues of teen addiction thanks to its longstanding commitment to prevention and awareness programs.
Just four years after the California Friday Night Live Partnership (CFNLP) was established in 1984 by the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs (ADP), TCOE developed a middle school component to Friday Night Live’s programming. By 1991, TCOE’s program was expanded statewide and by 1994 48 counties had a version of the program.
In March of 1996, TCOE responded to and was rewarded the winning bid to assume the educational and financial responsibility of leading CFNLP throughout the state. Two years later, TCOE had developed a pilot process for a mentoring program in five counties. Under TCOE’s guidance, CFNLP has implemented programs in nearly all of California’s 58 counties.
“It’s quite a feather in the county’s cap to operate the only state mandated prevention education program,” said Hire. “Our local staff was the driving force behind that and now there is direct connection between Tulare County and statewide education.”