Poker and Teen Addiction
by Sudhir Kale

Poker and Teen Addiction

Urbino readers who know me also know that I am no expert on Poker. Yet, the wild publicity surrounding the ubiquitous Poker craze cannot leave any of us unaffected. At the Gaming Executive Summit in Sydney in April, which Andrew MacDonald and I chaired, a special interactive panel session, “No Limit – Securing the Most Out of the Poker Boom,” was scheduled. Just last week, The Australian, Australia’s leading newspaper did a story, “Teens becoming hooked on poker,” for which yours truly was interviewed. The day the story appeared, ABC Radio in Newcastle called me to arrange an interview to be aired live on their Mornings program.

People want to know what’s behind Poker Mania. And, given the way young people have taken to the game in recent years, many within the media also want to know how they can use the Poker phenomenon to raise the sensationalism index of their columns or sound bytes. Not surprisingly, statistics about the alarmingly high teen addiction to Poker (real or fabricated) and anecdotal stories about debts and deaths encountered by teens as a “direct” result of Poker get front-page publicity.

I would like to steer clear of any sensationalism and take an objective look at the Poker rage. We shall look at the role played by the media and movies, by gaming companies, and by organizations such as Australian Poker League in creating and sustaining the popularity of what, until ten years ago, was considered an obscure pastime. More importantly, I want to share my opinions on Poker and teenage addiction to gambling.

Has the media played a vital role in the popularity of Poker? Most certainly. The TV poker craze started on sports channels but has now spread to more general channels. The ubiquitous presence of Poker on TV assumes a dozen or so names such as the World Poker Tour, Red Hot Poker, Celebrity Poker Showdown, and Poker Superstars. In the U.S., more than a million people tuned in to watch each broadcast of ESPN’s 2006 World Series of Poker. Celebrities such as Ben Afleck have become poster boys of the Poker industry. Their involvement, not to mention the million-dollar prizes in televised Poker tournaments, have ignited the interest of the World’s youth in this simple card game. Teen Poker parties have become the rage in most of the developed world, and anecdotal evidence suggests that Poker seems to have permeated the social lives of pre-teens as well.

Thousands of Websites promoting Poker (a Google search using “Poker Websites” yielded 342,000 results) and magazines such as the American Poker Player Magazine have also been catalysts in further advancing the cause of Poker. In Australia, a country of twenty million population, organizations such as the Australian Poker League have over 230,000 members, and growing. Thousands of poker tournaments are organized by the league every single week, cajoling and herding millions of Joe Hachem wannabes to clubs and pubs across Australia. Poker league Websites depict a seductive lifestyle brimming with adventure, passion, danger, and excitement.

Given the incessant Poker-related stimulation, it comes as no surprise that Poker has become the game of choice among 40 percent of the teenagers who do gamble. Does this mean that Poker is more addictive than other forms of gambling? Probably not.

We simply do not have the research to say categorically that one form of gambling is inherently more addictive than another. What we do know is that kids addicted to gambling also tend to partake in substance abuse such as nicotine, alcohol, and marijuana. This suggests that there exists, within the population, the general susceptibility to addiction. If a person possesses the proclivity to addiction, the object of addiction, for the most part, does not matter. We are beginning to discover correlates of addiction in our personalities and in our genes. There is nothing mythical or mystical about Poker that makes it addictive. Youth addiction to Poker can be explained by its accessibility. Compared to many forms of addiction, Poker provides easy access. All you need are a deck of cards, some chips, people to play with, and off you go. Or, better yet, you satisfy your cravings online.

In conclusion, I see no real difference between Poker and other forms of gambling as they relate to addiction among our youth. Poker does not create cravings or propensities that do not inherently exist among certain young people. 80 percent of the youth playing Poker will suffer no debilitating consequences whatsoever throughout their life. 15 percent may be at risk, and 5 percent will become addicted. In lamenting about the bad media influence, let us not forget the vital roles played by parents in controlling problem gambling among youth. Studies show that kids whose parents are unaware of their gambling activities are five times as likely to get into gambling-related trouble as kids whose parents are well-informed. Enough media bashing (though media are not entirely innocent), let’s get on with the task of responsible parenting.

Date Posted: 31-May-2007

Sudhir H. Kale, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Marketing at Bond University and the Founder of GamePlan Consultants (www.gameplanconsultants.net). GamePlan Consultants offers training and consultancy services to casinos, clubs, and pubs on the marketing aspects of gaming. Sudhir has published over fifty articles on the marketing and management of gaming. He has been a featured speaker at several high-profile gaming events such as the Global Gaming Expo and other international gaming conferences. You can write to Sudhir at skale@gameplanconsultants.net.

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