One of the things that I noticed at this year's World Series of Poker was the ever increasing amount of younger (read that as under 25 years old) players that seem to be making their way to the tables. Of course, the breakout story of the WSOP this year was college student Jeff Madsen who, at the start of the tournament in June, wasn't 21. He had to wait until a week after his 21st birthday in July to come to Las Vegas and take the poker world by storm.
Stories like this seem to fuel the concerns, oddly, of state governments and different programs they provide. A story in USA Today reported that, after a survey of students between sixth and twelfth grade reflected that 45% of the respondents had participated in a gambling activity, the state of Indiana has started instituting information into their after school programs that warn about the possibilities of gambling addiction alongside those about drugs and alcohol. The reason stated for the results is in part because of the display of tournament poker on television nowadays.
This isn't a new phenomenon, however. The state of Oregon also has attempted to institute gambling prevention programs into their alcohol and drug abuse programs and the state of Minnesota has gambling prevention programs available to their schools, although the courses are not mandatory for students to take. In Indiana, the program explains the odds of winning, gives guidance to recognizing addictive behavior and offers advice for dealing with a friend or family member who may be falling into those problematic patterns.
Once again, it all seems to come back to the impact of poker on television that all of the organizations point out as the culprit. With the wealth of poker programming on television, from the professionals on the World Poker Tour and the World Series of Poker (among others) to the celebrities on "Celebrity Poker Showdown" to the amateurs that can be found on the Mansion Pokerdome programs (and, once again, other programs), those in charge state that kids see these events, see how easy it is and then want to emulate the players that they see. Rather than pointing out the television factor of poker as the demon driving the machine, perhaps we should look a little deeper.
Each of the states mentioned in the article in USA Today all have legalized gambling either in Indian-owned or national casino chains and also have lotteries that operate. By a simple viewing of the evening news, where the daily lottery numbers are reported alongside developments in Iraq and the weather for the next day, children can be exposed to gambling. If they read any of their local newspapers, kids can view the betting lines on college and professional sports (and in some areas, the local horse or dog racing tracks) and have knowledge of the betting arena of life. To place the entirety of blame on poker is a little unjustified, if not outright wrong and hypocritical.
Yes, there are many who have problems with gambling. Yes, some of those people happen to be the youth of the nation. But to start state run programs that attempt to deal with the problem is not the way to go about it. Gamblers Anonymous is an excellent organization where problem gamblers can find a way to exorcise the desire to wager. I would rather see the people that have problems controlling their inner betting devices, whether teenagers or ninety year olds, handle it through those manners rather than through a state-sanctioned program.