By Trevor Allison
Gambling addiction in college students is on the rise because of modern technology and government involvement, according to gambling experts from Stop Predatory Gambling and Purdue University.
One effort to raise awareness of the problem is National Problem Gambling Awareness Week, taking place through Saturday, which is a joint effort by the National Council on Problem Gambling and the Association of Problem Gambling Service Administrators.
But universities should also take steps to address the issue, Les Bernal, executive director for Stop Predatory Gambling, said.
Stop Predatory Gambling is a non profit that fights to end government involvement in casino and lottery gambling.
“There is an incredible lack of public education,” Bernal said.
He said colleges need to take that role and inform students more effectively.
Dr. Bill Hanson, assistant professor of counseling at Purdue University, researched the gambling activities of college students and said many participate.
“The vast majority of college students gamble,” Hanson said. “Currently in the U.S., roughly 1.5 to 2.4 million college students have a problem.”
Collegegambling.org, a website published by the National Center for Responsible Gaming, states 75 percent of college students have gambled in the last year, and 18 percent gamble weekly or more frequently.
Bernal said college students are susceptible to gambling problems because of the ease of online gambling and the thrill of having a credit card.
He gave the cautionary tale of Greg Hogan, a former Lehigh University student who became addicted to online gambling. Hogan, who was president of his class, began gambling online after learning that some of his friends made money doing the same.
He eventually borrowed thousands of dollars from friends to fund his habit.
Hogan then robbed a bank on impulse to pay them back, which resulted in him going to prison.
“Two out of three gambling addicts have to resort to crime [to pay gambling debts],” Bernal said.
He said studies have shown the high a gambler receives from gambling is a drug-like high, similar to that of a cocaine user.
A gambling addiction can become especially dangerous, Bernal said. “Gambling addiction has the highest rate of attempted suicide of any addiction,” Bernal said.
According to the National Gambling Impact Study Report, which was commissioned by an act of Congress, one in five pathological gamblers commits suicide — a number higher than for any other addictive disorder. If someone is struggling with gambling, Bernal said, he or she should talk to someone right away, whether it is a friend or family member. He said it is important to remember he or she is not alone. Collegegambling.org offers information on connecting with gambling treatment centers.
Treatment is offered through counseling and behavior therapy that help the addict think about gambling in a different way.
While treatment is available, Bernal said universities need to do a better job of informing their students about the dangers of gambling.
Hanson said some of the most popular forms of gambling for college students include lottery tickets, casinos and office pools for events like March Madness.
Some state lotteries direct their marketing at younger people who have not learned how to manage their money, Bernal said. The legalization of casino gambling in Texas has been up for approval by the Texas Legislature for the last three years, Bernal said. He said it has been defeated each time, but has come back because of large monetary support from companies that operate casinos.