Exposing the Dark Side of Gambling Addiction


By Annie Mueller
For Casino Watch Foundation

It is no secret that children tend to follow in their parents' footsteps, for better or for worse. Children who are abused might become abusers or repeatedly entangle themselves in relationships with abusers. And, as the Missouri Department of Health states, "[a] family history of any addiction increases an individual's risk for developing an addiction," (1) whether that be an addiction to alcohol, drugs, or gambling.  

We often equate familiarity with comfort and security. Children who are taken to casinos, allowed to wander the casino floor, or left for hours in the glitzy, game-room-atmosphere of casino childcare facilities will inevitably associate a certain feeling of "home" with casinos. And they will be drawn back to the familiarity it offers.

Dr. Peter Andrew Sacco, referring to the risk online gambling poses to children, states that "[t]here is a famous quote which asserts, “today’s catchers are tomorrow’s pitchers”. This translated… children and teens learn through what they see and who they look up too! Don't believe me, refer to Albert Bandura's Social Learning Theory. ...At what point will children and teens stumble into on-line gaming, or better yet find it purposefully because their parent(s) taught them gambling was a great, exciting activity?" (2, emphasis added). Children grow up with the standards their parents set for them. If their parents have no qualms about spending all their free time at the poker table or slot machines and gambling away their entire paycheck, the children will not only have a similarly "open-minded" attitude but a tendency to take it a step further.

Though the children of compulsive gamblers are more likely to develop gambling problems themselves, not all of them will. But all of them will be affected by their parents' lifestyle choices. "Children of compulsive gamblers attempt suicide two times as often as classmates; do worse in school; are more likely to have alcohol, drug or gambling problems; and are more likely to have eating disorders and to experience depression" reports the Missouri Department of Mental Health (3). If these children do develop gambling addictions, they will most likely do so much earlier in life than their parents did. They are addicts before they are adults: "Adolescent prevalence rates of problem gambling are 2-4 times that of adults" (4).

The reality is that compulsive gambling always negatively affects the children involved. Though parents may restrain themselves enough to keep from physically abusing or neglecting their children, the emotional and psychological impact of living with an addicted parent cannot be undone. Though the parent may eventually seek help, recover, and begin a normal life, the children will carry the feeling that "just one more round" was more important to their parents than they were, and that they themselves must now fight the lure of the same demon.

1. Missouri Department of Mental Health, Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
2. Sacco, Peter Andrew, Ph.D. "Children and Gambling Addictions: Tomorrow's Next Problem Gambler!"
American Chronicle. 16 February 2007.
3. Missouri Department of Mental Health, Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse. "ADA Facts - Gambling." http://samhi.mimh.edu/.%5Ccache%5Csubstanceabuse%5Cgambling.htm
4. Missouri Department of Mental Health, Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse.