New Jersey Legislators To Try And Pass Gambling Education Bill

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Legislators across the nation keep hammering the sports betting industry on matters of advertising, with the risk it poses to kids being an oft-cited reason for, in some cases, introduction of draconian legislation.

But precious few lawmakers have actually sought to prevent problem gambling at its root by educating the kids themselves. So far, Virginia is the only state that has successfully passed legislation to teach about problem gambling at the high school level. Similar efforts in West Virginia and Maryland have stalled. 

Now, a Michigan legislator has introduced a bill to offer school districts resources to teach about gambling, and some New Jersey legislators are backing a measure that would require school districts to teach children about the dangers of gambling addiction. 

While Michigan’s bill has reported bipartisan support, New Jersey’s bill is in a mild state of limbo, as its main sponsor, Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, is now “former Assemblyman Ralph Caputo.” He resigned last week after accepting an offer to be on the board of an insurance company.

A co-sponsor of the New Jersey bill, Assemblyman Dan Benson, hopes to be able to move it through before the start of the unofficial summer break for state legislators.

“We’re doing a review, trying to decide which bills are most likely to get done before budget break, which is the third week in June,” Benson said, adding that he plans to reach out to another co-sponsor, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, and ask to get the bill posted.

“The bill is important for two reasons,” Benson said. ”One is the proliferation of sports betting and all the advertising, on top of online gaming which has been legal for almost a decade. It’s in [young people’s] faces all the time. They may see family members engaging in it as well.

“It’s something that is just part of life now. We should do everything we can to help these kids understand the risks and how to make rational decisions. And two, there have been many studies that show the addiction risk is higher at a younger age.”

A recent study by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) found upward of 80% of high school students gambled for money in the past year, and some 5% of high school students meet criteria for having a gambling problem.

It’s a very worthwhile bill,” Benson said. “To me, it’s a no-brainer.”

‘It works’

“Gambling has seemingly overnight become pervasive within our culture,” said Brianne Doura-Schawohl, a leading responsible gambling consultant. “It’s on every radio and TV station, on our phones, billboards, sponsorships with universities, pizza chains, on donuts, it’s everywhere. Yet, the lack of education surrounding the risks associated with gambling participation — especially for the nation’s youth — has not increased at the same rate as the access and interest.

“And let’s not kid ourselves, the kids are interested. I mean, look at the younger demographics that were flocking to Robinhood. Just as children are taught in schools about other notable public health issues — alcohol, drugs, tobacco, unprotected sex, etc. — gambling education warrants a place within the curriculum.”

The New Jersey bill stands apart from other efforts, as it wouldn’t only tackle the issue of the dangers of gambling addiction. It would also discuss concepts such as “probability versus predictability,” a lesson many would-be gamblers — teen or adult — would probably benefit from.

Doura-Schawohl also believes the arguing back and forth between wild-eyed reformers and equally wild-eyed libertarian types isn’t helping anyone, specifically those at risk for developing problems.

“Today there appears to be some pushback into the notion of ‘responsible gambling’ and if it works,” she said. “Yet, the incessant pushback doesn’t seem to exist for the ever-present ‘drinking responsible’ campaigns. Why is that? I believe that as a culture we better understand and can define what’s appropriate with things such as drinking and appreciate what ‘drinking responsibly’ really means, because it was first supported by the very thing we are discussing today — a comprehensive public health, evidence based, prevention education course.

“The difference is alcohol education is pretty much universal, and we’d all balk at the idea that Virginia teaches about the dangers of alcohol, but not, say, North Carolina, right? But yet, only one state has this problem gambling education mandatory in the U.S.”

Despite the false starts, Doura-Schawohl is confident we’re on the right path, despite the stumbling start.

“Virginia, New Jersey, and Michigan are all first movers in what these bills aim to achieve — preventing harm,” she said. “But other states will need to follow for this to be successful. Research clearly highlights the dangers of youth gambling participation, so at the end of the day, these pieces of legislation are about one thing, saving lives. Oh, and it works.”


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