Education Efforts Aim at Gamblers

AS youth drug use declines and gambling increases, educators are recognizing a need to include gambling education in public school drug and sex education programs. ``Like other forms of addictive behaviors, the first approach is preventative,'' says William C. Phillips, coordinator of counseling services at Bryant College in Smithfield, R.I. ``We have to educate people to it.''

Some states have passed legislation requiring that a portion of lottery revenues be used for educational efforts and treatment facilities for people who develop problem gambling behavior.

In 1987, after a statewide survey concluded that there were a significant number of compulsive gamblers in Massachusetts, the commonwealth started funding the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling with unclaimed lottery winnings. The organization provides public information on compulsive gambling.

Iowa and Minnesota are preparing the first state initiatives to provide preventative education on gambling to young people at the elementary and secondary school levels. Both programs use state lottery revenues.

Minnesota's lottery is scheduled to begin with scratch cards this month and get into full swing later this summer. The state is conducting a study of the levels of teen gambling before and after the lottery goes into effect.

``What we wanted to do was to try to find out what kids are doing in terms of gambling now before the lottery comes on line,'' says Alan Mathiason, director of the compulsive gambling treatment program in Minnesota.

Iowa has allocated one half of 1 percent of gross lottery revenues for compulsive gambling education. ``We contract with 11 agencies across the state of Iowa to provide out-patient treatment service. As a part of that contract, they have a responsibility within their communities to work with the schools,'' says Mary Ubinas, manager of the gamblers-assistance program of the Iowa Department of Human Services.

``We aren't to the point where we've written a curriculum,'' says David Wright, substance-abuse education consultant for the Iowa Department of Education. ``It would be awfully close to the kind of approaches we're taking with substance abuse.''

Some experts, however, see dangers in this approach to drug and gambling education. ``I don't think the substance abuse programs are working, to be honest,'' says Henry Lesieur, associate professor of sociology at St. John's University in Jamaica, N.Y. ``The students know more about drugs than the teachers do. That's one of the dangers of educational programs.''

Education about youth gambling needs to begin with the adults, says Dr. Lesieur. ``If you educate enough teachers, then we might talk about blanket education programs in the schools,'' he says. ``Given the few dollars that are available right now, there isn't enough money to say that we are going to spend the money on having teachers teach about compulsive gambling in the school.''

Durand Jacobs, a psychologist and expert on youth gambling, disagrees: ``Education on problem gambling should be a fellow traveler with education on the hazards of tobacco, drugs, alcohol, and sex,'' he suggests.

He views public awareness as the best way of addressing the problems of gambling. ``The present status of public awareness, of treatment facilities, of financial support ... is pretty much where it was 20 years ago with alcohol,'' he says.

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