High Stakes for High Schoolers: Wanna bet teens need gambling education?

sport gambling
Every teen sports gambler has dreams of hitting it big one day on a parlay with more legs than a millipede, but they don't take a step back to examine the numerous risks.
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This article is one of the winning submissions from the New York Post Scholars Contest, presented by Command Education.

“Take Syracuse minus 7 tonight, thank me later.”

“Let me cook up this parlay!”

These are real remarks heard in the halls of my high school, and they are not uncommon to hear from the mouths of students as young as 9th grade.

Every teen sports gambler has dreams of hitting it big one day on a parlay with more legs than a millipede, but they don’t take a step back to examine the numerous risks.

Not only are they gambling money, but they are also putting their future gambling habits on the line when deciding if Jalen Brunson will record over or under 28.5 points or if Aaron Judge will hit a home run.

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, 60-80% of high school students reported gambling money in the past year, even though the legal age ranges from 18-21.

They also report that high schoolers “have twice the rate of gambling problems as adults.”

Sports betting is currently legal in 38 states (plus Washington D.C.), but it’s the legalization of the online betting sites that has allowed high school students to get in on the action. You don’t have to look very hard to find a place to do it, even as an underage high school student, as 30 states (plus the capital) now allow you to place bets right from your fingertips.

It’s easier than ever to create an account on any of these apps. Technically, yes, you need to be over 18 (or 21), and although identity verification is required to set up an account where you can withdraw real money, teens find ways to set them up anyway.

Once the app has you in its grasp with an account in your name (real or not), there is no limit.

Watch any sporting event and notice the constant bombardment of advertising for numerous sports betting sites: DraftKings, FanDuel, Caesars Sportsbook, Bet MGM, Bet 365, ESPN Bet, Fanatics Sportsbook, Fliff—it never ends.

Would you like to place a bet on Czech Liga Pro table tennis?

How about League of Legends Esports?

Betting on something so obscure could be indicative of addiction, and the answer to the above from the impulsive, not-fully-developed teenage brain is “yes” way more times than it should be.

According to Yale Medicine, about 1% of adults suffer from gambling addiction. However, “many gambling disorders begin in adolescence” and the rates of addiction among youths jump to 2-7%.

Even betting on a sport, team or player that you know like the back of your hand could cause major implications and cost you, but that is not the point.

High school sports gambling isn’t just a problem, it’s an epidemic. Students are betting to their own detriment, whether they know it or not, and it needs to be addressed.

It’s time for schools to focus on the root cause of online teen sports gambling by implementing gambling prevention education in all high schools. Health class curricula across the nation cover the typical health risks for teens such as smoking, vaping, drinking, etc., yet gambling education is nowhere to be found in our schools.

Teens need education and knowledge to change their ways, and it’s currently non-existent in the sports gambling space, despite the staggering number of underage users, which is only on the rise. In 2022, a bill designed to add school instruction on gambling addiction was easily passed in the Virginia Senate, but similar bills in other states have stalled.

On the topic of illegal underage substances, drugs such as marijuana are often referred to as ‘gateway drugs’ which lead toward dependence on a stronger drug. This is the exact same scenario seen in high school sports gambling communities with one particular app called Fliff. The app refers to itself as a “free-to-play social sportsbook”, which allows users to make “sports predictions as a play-for-fun game”.

Fliff CEO, Matt Ricci, calls his company an “introductory tool” for those curious about sports gambling. If this doesn’t sound like the epitome of a gateway, I don’t know what does.

Underage sports bettors flock to the app and think nothing of it. To them, it seems like just another way to express that pure joy of sports fandom. But, no.

Subconsciously, multitudes of high schoolers are likely becoming addicted to gambling to the point that, “it [Fliff] is the most used app on my phone”, according to one 11th grader.

It doesn’t matter that it’s “free-to-play” or “play-for-fun”; this is a ride going full speed through that ‘gate’. Before teens know it, the same previously free bets will hold high dollar amounts on ‘real’ betting apps. This is an extremely dangerous development, yet there is little-to-no discussion on the topic in schools.

As a huge Knicks fan, when I turn on MSG Network, I’m greeted with an entire segment dedicated to betting, which is directly sponsored by FanDuel. Throughout the game’s commercial breaks, the viewer sees numerous promotions for sports gambling with some like Bet 365 featuring live in-game betting odds, while others offer “no sweat first bets”, as some persuade you to put skin in the game.

There is even a “BetCast” on one of the network’s alternate channels. It’s impossible to escape this matrix, especially as an easily tempted high school sports fan.

I’m one of the few sports fans that I know who doesn’t bet. I’m a huge fan of my New York teams and watch for the love of the game, but even I find myself looking up odds. Awareness and education are essential to stopping a potential problem before it starts. With the implementation of gambling education, we can get back to saying “Let’s Go Knicks!”, instead of “I hope my parlay hits.”

An 11th-grader at John Jay High School in Cross River, NY, Cotrone aspires to be a sports journalist covering the Knicks, the Yankees or the Giants.