My motto has always been "Prepare, Don’t Preach," so when it comes to betting, I have to do what I can to prepare you for the reality that gambling isn’t just a problem or a bad habit that random "loser kids" have. It’s an addiction that doesn’t discriminate and often eliminates those who bet against it.
Over the years the popularity of gambling has skyrocketed among college-age students. But seemingly harmless betting could and has turned into a dangerous obsession for far too many people. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, "Of the nation’s 5.4 million pathological or problem gamblers, about half are under 21 years of age, with just over a million gamblers between the ages of 12 and 18."
Often touted as "friendly wagers" used to "make things more interesting," the history of gambling has roots that run deep. Games of chance are most often influenced by some random device or factor such as dice, cards or numbered balls drawn from a container.
Gambling is connected with probability and mathematical theory, yet tons of research and analysis overwhelmingly shows that, in the long run, the only "winners" in the gambling game are the organizers of the games. Even in games of skill such as poker and blackjack, which require you to make decisions based on previous or partial knowledge, the odds work against you. Yet while most people understand the odds are that they’ll lose, the possibility of winning is often too much to resist. Getting something for nothing (or what seems like spending a little to gain a lot) is a very attractive proposition for gamblers.
Consider what Mike Orkin, author of "Can You Win? The Real Odds for Casino Gambling, Sports Betting, and Lotteries," wrote about the odds of winning a state regulated lottery: "If one person purchases 50 Lotto tickets each week, they will win the jackpot about once every 5,000 years." Despite those horrible odds, millions of people with "a dollar and a dream," spend billions on lottery tickets, PowerBalls and Mega-Million Jackpots.
Whether wagering on leisure games like horseshoes or high-octane sports like horse racing, the odds are overwhelmingly against you, which leads me to the madness that happens every March. The FBI reports that approximately $2.5 billion is illegally wagered on March Madness each year. Basketball may be the sport that fuels the annual NCAA tournament, but gambling is the real game that drives people mad-especially college students.
According to Tim Otteman, a leading expert on sports-related gambling, "College students are two to four times more likely to become pathological gamblers than the general adult population. Combine that with the tremendous amount of information available about the games via the Internet, the 50/50 odds on predicting a winner with the point spread, the popularity of college athletics, the competitive spirit of former interscholastic athletes and the disposable time a college student enjoys, and you have the perfect recipe for involvement in sports gambling."
While most students who admit to getting swept up in the madness are just "having a little fun," the road to the Final Four could lead to jail or worse, death, when gambling is involved. The sports betting addiction of Meng-Ju Wu, a 19-year-old freshman at the University of Wisconsin, reads more like a page-turning crime drama with an unbelievably tragic ending than the life of a promising business major.
Inevitably, Wu’s gambling losses outpaced his winnings and he quickly racked up more than $15,000 in debt as his "sure bet" teams suffered defeat after crushing defeat. Desperate to get out of the mess he was in, Wu began gambling away his tuition and expense money with an online sports book to try to win enough to repay his initial debt, but the hole just kept getting deeper.
When all hopes of repayment seemed to be exhausted or loss, Wu attempted to cancel his debt by eliminating the person he owed the most, his bookie, Jason McGuigan. To get rid of the debt he shot and killed his bookie; to get rid of the evidence, Wu also took the lives of McGuigan’s roommates Dustin Wilson and Dan Swanson who were sleeping at the time. Arrested for a triple homicide, Wu hung himself in jail just hours before his trial was to start.
But before the tale of Wu’s "harmless gambling habit" ended, it turned even more tragic for Sandi Snook, Dustin Wilson’s mom, who claims that the death of her son devastated his brother and best friend, David, so deeply that he hung himself in his bedroom closet. Even if death is not the end result of a gambling addiction, the victims caught in its web are affected for life. Gambling can rob you of your future, your family and friends, and leave you emotionally and financially bankrupt.
The initial rush of gambling starts as euphoria but when chased that feeling becomes illusive and dangerous. A few warning signs of gambling addiction are:
* An inability to stop once you start gambling
* Setting ‘loss limits’ for the day and then routinely exceeding the limits
* Borrowing or stealing money to pay gambling debts
* Lying to friends and/or family about gambling frequency or the extent of losses
* Neglecting other responsibilities like school, work or hanging out with friends due to a preoccupation with gambling
If you’re on a slippery slope or know someone who needs help with a gambling addiction, I urge you to contact Gamblers Anonymous at 1-888-424-3577 today and get help. The odds for success are in your favor.
Sanyika Calloway Boyce is the author of four books. She travels nationwide to educate, empower, entertain and enlighten students about money, credit and debt. This former debt-strapped college student shares real and relevant money messages that young adults can relate to and understand. Visit her online today at financialfitnesscoach.com.
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