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Senate bill could change legal gambling age in Fla.

A bill in Florida Senate proposes to lower the gambling age from 21 to 18, but a USF study shows youths are at the greatest risk for developing gambling problems.

While 18-year-olds can play the lottery and poker or bet on horse and greyhound races, they can’t play slots, blackjack or other Las Vegas-style games. This was one of the reasons behind the bill.

“We wanted it to be uniform all the way across,” said Sen. Dennis Jones (R-Seminole), according to an article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “We felt that 18 was a good age.”

Natalie Mullett, deputy director for the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, said that if this bill passes, the state will put the most addictive methods of gambling within reach of the group at the greatest risk of  becoming addicted.

Those aged 12-18 are at the highest risk for developing a pathological gambling problem — four times more likely than the rest of the population, Mullett said.

She also said slot and lottery machines are known to be the most rapidly addictive among any population.

The study, “Gambling and Problem Gambling Prevalence Among College Students in Florida,” estimates that 50,000 Florida college students have symptoms of pathological gambling, and that 10,975 of those are problem gamblers and 10,065 are pathological gamblers.

H. Roy Kaplan, an associate professor at USF who worked on the study, said he does see the why 18-year-olds are granted the right to gamble in the lotto and races.

“Casino gambling is fast-paced and has certain kinds of characteristics that are not found in other forms of gambling,” he said. “When you play cards, shoot craps, when you have roulette, these are all very quick pace, quick pay-off, and that is the type of activity that can cause problems for people because of the psychological impact that type of gambling has.”

Gamblers betting at the dog track have to wait 25 minutes between races, Kaplan said, while the casino is instantaneous.

“In adolescence, and that goes right through the 20s, the brain isn’t fully developed,” he said. “That’s why (adolescents) are more impulsive in some behaviors — they are more reckless in the way they drive and some other activates they engage in.”

According to the study, dropping out of school, poor academic performance, criminal
behavior, disrupted relationships, and social and interpersonal problems often accompany gambling problems.

Mullet listed the signs that may indicate a gambling problem.

Compulsive gamblers often spend money they don’t have and may even max out multiple credit cards, she said.

People with a gambling problem often lie about what they are doing with their money, or brag about their winnings while neglecting to mention bigger losses, Mullett said.

“College students with a gambling problem may skip class and stay home to play Internet gambling games,” she said. “They also may lose academic scholarships.”

If the state makes it easier for younger people to gamble, then it has a responsibility to educate them about the risks of gambling and treatment facilities for compulsive gamblers, Kaplan said.

“The larger question is, is this the way to fund the state government?” Kaplan said. “The government and its leaders have to become far more responsible leaders and need to find alternative sources of funding.”

The bill will not be addressed by the Senate until after this week because legislators are off for the Passover and Easter holidays.