(NEW YORK) — In an age of proliferated and accessible mobile gambling, a 19-year-old, who first spoke with ABC News’ Good Morning America last year, said he is still struggling with a gambling addiction despite three months in rehab, and continued work with a gamblers anonymous program.
“I really felt like I had put it behind me,” said the teenager, who asked to remain anonymous.
Steve, as he was pseudonymously referred to on GMA, said despite initially resisting the temptation of sports gambling, he was once again swept up in the activity.
He said the constant stream of advertisements kept gambling as a focus for him.
“It was just the temptation of sports betting, you know, all the ads. I’m not going to say that the ads are the reason I did it, but just constantly being reminded of it,” Steve said.
After decades of restriction, online sports betting is now legal and active in 24 states plus Washington, D.C., and five more states are set to launch it this year.
Dr. Timothy Fong, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, said the continued acceptance of sports gambling puts young kids at risk.
“We’re introducing a potentially addictive disorder at a very, very early age, and yet it’s designed for 21 and older,” Fong said.
Fong said he is seeing patients as young as 15, 16 and 17 years old with gambling disorders, something he had not seen before the widespread legalization.
Bill Miller, the president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, told ABC News that “the legal gaming industry is committed to protecting young adults through age verification, marketing limitations, and responsible gaming measures.”
“The same cannot be said for the vast illegal, offshore gambling market that does not verify age, targets teens, and offers no protections. Our members continue to call on law enforcement to stop illegal operators and protect vulnerable Americans,” he added.
Steve, who said his addiction started at 15, described “little underground hidden sites” that make gambling accessible for teenagers.
The legal age for gambling in the U.S. is 18 or 21, depending on the state and the types of games.
Steve said after relapsing he has been clean for one month, and plans to work with his sponsor while he is at college.
Steve’s dad, pseudonymously referred to as Martin, said activities like fantasy football led to the normalization of gambling in their home.
“In retrospect, I wouldn’t have normalized it even to the level that we did, which, again, for a lot of people it might have been okay, but in this case, it wasn’t,” he said.
Steve said hiding an illegal gambling addiction from his parents was not a challenge.
“It’s very easy. It’s that one addiction that you can’t necessarily see or smell on them. You really need the addict to be honest about it,” he said.
Experts say having open conversations with kids and teens about the topic of gambling is important. According to Steve, the support from his parents and sponsor has helped him tremendously.
“Encourage them that whatever it is that they’re dealing with, you’re there to listen. You have their back. You’re there to support them,” he said.
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