In the first six months of 2013, Hollywood Casino at the Kansas Speedway turned away 460 people under age 21 who tried to enter.
That statistic, found in the casino’s responsible gambling report, sets off alarm bells for one member of the Northeast Kansas Gambling Task Force. Casino officials said the figure represents mostly college-age students.
Andrica Wilcoxen, on the Northast Kansas Gambling Task Force, said she is concerned about that number. Is it possible for kids to have gambling problems? “Absolutely,” Wilcoxen said. She is coordinator of the Kansas City Kansas Community College outreach and prevention program.
Gambling is now a norm in society and people don’t look at it in the same way as alcohol or drug addiction, Wilcoxen said. Buying a lottery ticket or gambling at a casino isn’t using a mind-altering drug. But it does provide a high.
“It’s the reward system, it’s the win,” Wilcoxen said. Dopamine can be released when people experience a win, and can set up a system where the individual wants to return to gambling again and again, she said. Patterns can start with such simple actions as a relative giving a lottery ticket to a child, or a child watching a parent win at a game of chance, or a child throwing dice in the school restroom, she believes.
“A lot of people don’t understand that the earlier you teach these kids compulsive behaviors, they can become an addict later on,” she said.
Wilcoxen speaks to groups in the area about problem gambling, and some of the groups include school children. The Northeast Kansas Area Gambling Task Force will be starting a project soon to take a look at whether youth are being allowed to buy lottery tickets at local stores, which is illegal, she said.
She said she has talked to youth and some have talked about gambling in school. “Sometimes they borrow or steal money from mom or dad,” she said. They might gamble away their jacket or shoes, she said. To recover money they lost, they might consider stealing something that belongs to someone else, perhaps a relative. They can become despondent, even to the point of suicide, Wilcoxen said. Some youth who gamble and lose at school could become subject to bullies who demand money from them, she added.
She said youth need to be educated about how to be responsible gamblers. Often, responsible gamblers set a maximum limit and don’t go over it. They also may limit the amount of time they spend gambling.
“The key to education is the parents,” Wilcoxen said. “You just wouldn’t give car keys to a 12-year-old.”
She also talks with adults and parents about how to talk to children about gambling. They can become defensive if they’re not approached correctly. She added a lot of people don’t know that Kansas has a program in place that pays all expenses of counseling for gamblers and their families.
Besides youth, another potentially high-risk group here are senior citizens, Wilcoxen said. One Kansas City, Kan., resident, for example, had retired and gambled away his retirement money, she noted.
There also are middle-aged parents who go to work each day and after work, go to the casino, she added. Occasionally that can get out of hand with gamblers losing everything.
Wilcoxen said the task force isn’t for or against gambling; it’s for responsible gambling.
“For our area, gambling irresponsibly is on the rise,” she said. “If we don’t start now and stop this, it’s going to be just as bad as drug addiction,” Wilcoxen said. Responsible gamblers currently outnumber the irresponsible ones, she added.
The task force wants to get Gamblers Anonymous set up in Wyandotte County, she said, and wants to attract more counselors who specialize in gambling addictions.
If she had more funding available, Wilcoxen said she would like to use the funding to educate retailers about the gambling laws, including selling to minors; go into the schools more and talk about what it means to be responsible; make sure youth see the whole picture, not just the wins from gambling; encourage more certified gambling counselors to locate in Wyandotte County; provide scholarships for counselors to attend a problem gambling conference; and hold town hall meetings to educate the community.
Hollywood Casino officials point out that the 460 number in the report was mostly college-aged people who are 19 and 20 years old. That group is considered to be adults for several other purposes in society. The casino takes this responsibility of turning away minors very seriously, officials said.
Bob Sheldon, vice president and general manager of the casino, said that besides the casino floor, the facility contains a sports bar, and it’s really difficult to know what the young adult who is turned away wants to do. The majority of the turn-aways are on Friday and Saturday nights, he added.
Kansas casinos do not card everyone who walks in the door. They ask for identification of some after looking at those who are entering.
“We card anybody who looks like they’re under 30,” Sheldon said. “It’s very difficult to get past the first line of defense.”
The staff receives regular training on identifying minors and dealing with them, he added.
For the most part, the minors in the 460 are not younger teens. He said he could count on one hand the number of cases of kids left in the casino parking lot. Also, it’s not often that younger teens try to get into the casino.
Additionally, there are no visible large problems with the problem gambling exclusion list. Fewer than 10 persons who were signed up on the voluntary exclusion list have tried to come into the casino to gamble, he added. The Hollywood Casino also honors the Missouri voluntary exclusion list, he said.
There are no real penalties for kids who try to get into the casino.
“We just try to give them a stern warning,” Sheldon said. The casino confiscates fake identification cards and turns the youth away from the door.
Sheldon noted that bar owners have similar challenges in dealing with underage youth.
“We have a much greater degree of responsibility and we’re regulated by the state more,” he added.
A spokesman for the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission said that there are consequences for the casino and the employees that fail to stop a minor from gambling. If a violation is found, the KRGC intervenes, evaluates, investigates and determines whether the casino and employees are subject to sanctions for violations, he said.
The casino is doing everything possible to prevent underage youth from getting in the doors, Sheldon said. It also conducts responsible gambling activities including distributing information to patrons about gambling responsibly, he said. Also, when the casino advertises, it includes the information that patrons must be over 21, he added.
According to information provided to the state regulatory gaming commission, the other two state-owned casinos in Kansas also had hundreds of minors who tried to get in the doors this year.
At the Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane, Kan., there were 371 underage persons denied entrance to the gaming floor in the first six months of 2013. At Boot Hill Casino in Dodge City, Kan., 230 minors were refused entry to the casino in the first six months, according to documents.
The help line for problem gambling in Kansas is 1-800-522-4700.