In the 12/18/03 issue of Sightings, Andrew Weaver and Christopher G. Ellison report that, "In 1988, only two states had large-scale casino gambling; now 27 states have it. Thirty-seven states operate a lottery, and some form of gambling is legal in 48 states. Advertisements for online gambling sites appear all over the internet. There are 280 Web sites that offer online gambling for real money. Online betters gamble at the rate of about 10 billion dollars a year and it is growing fast.

"Problem gambling's impact on families and youth is only beginning to be understood. For example, adult problem gamblers are more likely to divorce, have destabilized families, drink excessively and use drugs, abuse their wives and children, suffer depression, and attempt suicide. The children of problem gamblers are more likely to do poorly in school; use illicit drugs, tobacco, and alcohol; run away; attempt suicide; indicate they are unhappy; and take up gambling than children from non-gambling families. Three out of four children of problem gamblers report that their first gambling experience occurred before age 11. This is the first generation of American children to have grown up in a society where gambling has been widely legalized, accepted, marketed, and glamorized.

"As gambling proliferates, it increases the exposure of children to gambling and their vulnerability to the addiction. Increasingly, the market-savvy gambling industry is pushing the concept of "Family Entertainment Centers," which include places for adults to gamble while their children engage in other entertainment. The aim of the gambling industry is to create the next generation of gamblers from the children who watch their parents get excited by gambling. Researchers at Harvard Medical School reviewed nine studies of 7,700 young people, ages 15-20, in the United States and Canada. They found that 9.9 to 14.2 percent displayed problems in gambling and 4.4 to 7.4 percent met the diagnostic criteria for "pathological gambling" disorder. These figures are two to three times greater than those reported among adults."

(Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.)