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Invincible and Invulnerable

Jeff Derevensky is the director of the International Center for Youth Gambling.
Photo by Mark Alden

Exactly why adolescents are more vulnerable than adults to developing a gambling addiction is being researched extensively at the International Center for Youth Gambling in Montreal. The center, based at McGill University, is the world's leading research and treatment center for adolescent gambling. Its director, Jeff Derevensky, says gambling is just another high-risk activity that kids are naturally drawn to during adolescence, like sex, drinking and driving too fast.

"Young children often don't have the same reasoning capacity," says Derevensky. "They perceive themselves as invincible and invulnerable. They tend not to have the responsibility that adults do and don't have to provide for their families and as a result are much more likely to engage in this behavior."

Despite a decade of researching youth gambling, Derevensky admits that most schools and universities were unprepared for the recent popularity of poker.

"I think everyone has been caught unaware by the tremendous popularity of poker, Texas Hold 'Em in particular," says Derevensky. "I think Texas Hold 'Em is more popular among kids than George Bush is in Texas. We all have this stereotypical picture of a problem gambler. It's a male; he's lost his family, his job, etc. Nowhere do you hear the word teenager, so we don't think of it as a potential problem."

Jeff Derevensky also believes parents need to come to grips with the potential dangers of gambling. At the moment, too many parents see gambling as a harmless pastime and encourage their kids to while away their leisure time playing cards.

"Many parents are deathly afraid that their children will get involved in drugs, alcohol," says Derevensky, "and as a result, it's very safe and inviting to have all the kids in your basement, in your home playing cards for money because at least we know where they are and they're not out doing some other kind of nefarious activity."

Read more about the experience Ryan's parents had learning their son was a compulsive gambler.
Ryan's mom and dad were two such parents who readily opened their doors to Ryan's schoolmates for poker nights, delighted that their son was socializing in the apparent safety of their own home.

"It was a false sense of security, knowing where all your kids are," says Ryan's father. "They'd come around the dining room table, six, eight, ten kids on a Friday or Saturday night. They were in clear sight. They're not drinking or smoking dope. It's point blank they're in front of us."

Ryan's mother also felt secure about her son's poker playing.

"It was good to know they were here. We could see what they were doing. They were a couple of steps away. They're right in the dining room, I'm in the kitchen and they're having a good time."

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