Printer Friendly

Going for broke; Betting teens flock to poker.

Byline: Linda Bock

Suddenly, it seems everyone is playing poker - including increasing numbers of teens.

Northbridge High School senior Neil D. Polucha said he learned to play poker in 2003, when the Texas Hold 'em poker craze became popular on ESPN. Texas Hold 'em is a version of poker played in casinos and seen on the Travel Channel's World Poker Tour and ESPN's World Series of Poker.

Mr. Polucha, 18, said he loves to play poker with his friends, and typically a group of five or six will spend a couple of hours at his home playing poker on Friday or Saturday nights. He puts a felt poker top on the table and gets out the poker chips.

"This town doesn't have much to do,'' said Shane E. Krevis, 18, one of the regulars at the games. "We usually play every weekend, if we can get a game up."

The buy-in can sometimes be a few bucks, but both teens said they do not play for the money so much as the fun mix of competition, luck and skill.

Most teens begin gambling innocently enough with family and friends, according to the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, and at least 78 percent of Massachusetts youth have placed a bet by age 18, a figure that has risen dramatically during the past 20 years.

The younger a person starts a behavior with the potential for addiction, the greater the risk, according to James F. Wuelfing, the council's director of prevention. With the national average age of first-time gambling now at 11-1/2, "teen gambling deserves our attention," he said.

About 57,000 to 97,000 teens in Massachusetts have had a gambling problem, according to the council.

"I wouldn't say don't buy your child a scratch ticket to put in their Christmas stocking or birthday card," said Mr. Wuelfing, but with young people gambling earlier, "you might want to rethink that."

Mr. Wuelfing said he has spoken to parents who think nothing is wrong with setting up a poker table and allowing their adolescents to play poker games at home with friends. Some parents think their child is safer at home, not drinking alcohol or out on the roads drinking and driving.

He said he does not want to moralize on gambling, but suggests that parents have honest discussions with their teens. "Are they borrowing money? How do they handle debt? What could they be doing with those five or six hours a night instead of playing cards? Are you sure they're not really playing for money?" he said.

Heidi L. Delvecchio of Millbury said her teenage son is not interested in playing cards, though her nephew enjoys playing Texas Hold 'em every other weekend.

"I never told him not to," Ms. Delvecchio said. "I generally think it's harmless fun."

The most common types of gambling for teens tend to be playing cards and sports betting. But increasingly, parents are concerned that their teens may be gambling on the Internet, where many game operators are located on servers outside the United States - beyond the jurisdiction of state or federal regulations on hours of operation, the age of the participants, or the type of games offered. According to the Federal Trade Commission, it's easy for teens to access online gambling sites, especially if they have credit or debit cards.

Data released in 2006 by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania showed that more than 1 million young people use Internet gambling sites each month. Among males 18 to 22, Internet gambling doubled in 2006.

Uxbridge parent Steven Berube said he does not have a problem if his 17-year-old son plays a friendly hand of poker, but would have a problem if his son used his credit card to gamble online. "If I ever found out my son took my credit card without my permission, he would lose a lot more than a `hand,'" Mr. Berube said.

Because his son is headed toward college, Mr. Berube said he is far too busy with academics, sports and driving.

Millbury High School senior Steven T. Belanger said he went to Twin River in Rhode Island, the former Lincoln Park greyhound track that now has 4,752 video slot machines, to celebrate his 18th birthday in December. He said he has gambled there several times since.

"I usually gamble for about five hours when I go," Mr. Belanger said. "I like the `Wheel of Fortune' games and a lot of the video games."

He said he also plays video games online occasionally.

Young women's rates of gambling of all kinds tend to lag behind men's. Among young women ages 18 to 22, about 35 percent report any type of gambling on a monthly basis, compared to about 56 percent in men, according to Annenberg, and gambling on the Internet is small, only about 1 percent of women ages 18 to 22 report playing online.

"Ask teenage girls," Mr. Wuelfing said. "The problem with gambling is guys are playing cards on Friday and Saturday nights now instead of going out."

Mr. Belanger said his gambling most likely began when he played cards with his older brother and his friends. Then he started buying scratch lottery tickets in Worcester before he turned 18. Mr. Belanger once won $150 on a scratch ticket, and said he sometimes purchased up to 15 tickets a night. Sometimes he bought scratch tickets night after night.

"I guess I gamble just for the possibility of winning big,'' Mr. Belanger said. "Once I start, I can't stop the scratch tickets. I try to do it responsibly, and for the most part, I do. It seems like everyone pretty much gambles now."

Mr. Belanger said he sold his grandmother's lawnmower in a family yard sale last fall to pay off a gambling debt. One of his friends, James L. Trippaldi, 17, said, "He can be an idiot at times, when he could be spending money on fixing his car."

Robert T. Hackenson Jr., 23, of Watertown-based Dynamic Influence, recently gave a presentation on the risks of teen gambling to the sophomore class at Millbury High School,

at the invitation of the local chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions. Mr. Hackenson grew up in Dudley and is a graduate of Shepherd Hill Regional High School. His presentation was funded by a grant from Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling.

"Who wants to win some quick cash now?'' Mr. Hackenson asked students. Practically every hand shot into the air. "Who has gambled before?" he asked. Again, the majority of the class raised their hands, and many students said yes to his next question: "Has anyone seen anyone lose a lot of money because of gambling?"

Mr. Hackenson told a number of stories, including one about a Worcester father who had to take a second mortgage on his home to cover his son's credit card debt for online gambling, and a college student who got caught breaking into a house to pay a gambling debt and lost his scholarship.

"You don't realize how many kids are gambling, because you don't see it,'' Mr. Hackenson said.

Contact reporter Linda Bock by e-mail at

Gambling more popular among young men than women

Portion of young people ages 14-22 who reported gambling at least once a month (2005-2006)

Sex Card playing Internet Other gambling All gambling

2005 2006 2005 2006 2005 2006 2005 2006

Male 36.4% 33.1% 4.7% 6.6% 40.0% 37.2% 56.3% 49.4%

Female 14.1% 9.2% 1.4% 1.5% 25.4% 24.0% 30.0% 28.1%

Source: National Annenberg Risk Survey of Youth, 2006; The Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania


Could gambling be a problem?

If you answer "yes" to a lot of these questions,

it may be time to seek help.

1. Do you think poker is the most exciting activity you do?

2. Do you often spend your free time involved in poker?

3. Do you try to prevent your family and friends from knowing how much you gamble?

4. Do your friends gamble? Are you part of the "gambling crowd?"

5. Do you often daydream about playing poker?

6. Do you often play poker during lunch breaks, after school hours or on weekends?

7. Do you miss school or other important events because of gambling?

8. Do you often dream of solving your problems by making a big win?

9. Do you ever lie about whether you play poker or how much you lose?

10. Is gambling the main source of what you do to feel good about yourself?

For more questions, go to, click on "Teens & Poker."

Source: North American Training Institute


CUTLINE: (1) Millbury High School students Peter Haigis, left, and Steven T. Belanger play cards. (2) Robert T. Hackenson Jr. uses a spinning device to illustrate perception; he said gambling is based on perception.

PHOTOG: (1) T&G Staff Photo Illustration/MARK C. IDE; (2)T&G Staff/BETTY JENEWIN
COPYRIGHT 2007 Worcester Telegram & Gazette
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 11, 2007
Previous Article:`Ex' may be worst of summer films.
Next Article:Men accused of firing into car; Suspect in court yesterday on earlier gun charges.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |