Statewide teen program tackles gambling addiction

California students take part in an annual conference where their anti-gambling videos compete for recognition.
California students take part in an annual conference where their anti-gambling videos compete for recognition.
Royer Studios, courtesy California Friday Night Live Partnership

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For ten years, coordinators of an after-school anti-gambling program have been growing the number of students they reach in an effort to stop problem gambling and teach students money management skills.

The program, called Betting on Our Future, is hosting participants from throughout California at their annual, three-day conference in Anaheim starting on Monday.

“We know that young people aren’t necessarily the primary problem in problem gambling, but they’re affected by it in their families and their communities,” said Jim Kooler, who administers the program as head of the California Friday Night Live Partnership at the Tulare County Office of Education.

Problem gambling affects about 10 percent of teenagers and 4 percent of adults in the state, according to state officials. Kooler said it’s a much bigger problem when you think about the ripple effects.

“You may have a young person who has a family member, a parent who is gambling, and there’s no money for rent, there’s no money for food, and they’re affected by it as well,” Kooler said.

The goal of the program is to help students learn how bets at school, online games, and financial risk-taking like high-interest loans can feed gambling tendencies while helping them identify the skills needs to engage in healthy gambling – defined as that which is under control. Organizers say the program reinforces leadership skills, community problem solving, and civics lessons by pushing students to find out how prevalent a problem is in their school and neighborhoods.

Taking part in the program helped some of the teens see the harmful side of everyday behavior at their school, students said.

“My friends like to play basketball or sports and like, play for money,” said eleventh grader Breanna Martin, who took part in the program at Citrus Valley High School in Redlands. “And they sometimes end up losing a lot and getting into fights over it.”

Her school and 28 other sites across the state, including ones in San Bernardino, Riverside, and Anaheim, received grants that paid for video production equipment. Students  met during lunch, after school, or on weekends to learn about problem gambling and to plan and shoot a short video about the effects of gambling addiction.

It was the first year Martin's school took part in Betting on Our Future.

“Next year it would be interesting to get a little more in depth as to what exactly is going on at our school,” said Pam Martin, a teacher at school who advises the group and who is Breanna’s mother. “We heard about dice throwing and cards and whatnot, but maybe looking at it a little deeper and possibly trying to track down some these kids that are in trouble,” in order to help them.

The videos produced at this and 28 other sites will compete at the Betting on Our Future annual conference in Anaheim this week. The videos are about 30 seconds long each and all have an anti-gambling messages.