Gambling habit found spreading to youths

The problem of compulsive gambling among men, women -- and even teen-agers -- is on the increase across the United States, with the most acute conditions in Nevada and New Jersey, the two states with legalized casino gambling.

So finds a lengthy new study by the alcohol, narcotics, and drug abuse unit of the New Jersey Department of Health. It is believed to be the first comprehensive study any state agency has undertaken of compulsive gambling.

The study, according to a report made available to the Monitor, focused on both national gambling trends and those associated primarily with casino gambling, which started in this state almost two years ago. The report indicates:

* Teen-age gambling is no longer an isolated, occasional practice. In New York City, for instance, almost one-third of about 700 students surveyed in three high schools gambled money on "off-track betting, cards, numbers, and games."

* Compulsive gambling now may affect as many as 9 million Americans -- more than 375,000 of them New Jerseyites. As is the case with Nevada, New Jersey is expected to have more problem gamblers than other states because of the increased availability of legalized gambling.

* Social service agencies, such as the Salvation Army, have reported big increases in the demand for their services since the advent of casino gambling here in Atlantic City. Gamblers Anonymous, the self-help organization modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, now has 300 chapters nationally -- 23 of them in New Jersey alone.

* Higher than average rates of alcoholism may be directly related to the availability of gambling. This report says that one task force from another state found a possible connection between the relatively high alcoholism rate in Nevada and casino gambling.

The study recommends the New Jersey Department of Health maintain a permanent office on compulsive gambling; that a state council on compulsive gambling be established as a "referral program"; and that "an outpatient crisis-intervention program" for gamblers should be developed for Atlantic City.

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