Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Press-Citizen Promotes Student Gambling

The Iowa City Press-Citizen, which has been pushing the edge of the envelope with regard to the promotion of gambling (see earlier blog entries, linked from below) in page one stories and special supplements, ripped the envelope open this morning with a direct assault on our local high school and college youth. Hieu Pham, "Students Find New Ways to Earn Cash," Iowa City Press-Citizen, September 26, 2006, p. 1A.

Without even a nod in the direction of balance, under a headline designed to get high school and college students' attention (after all, what student would not be interested in "new ways to earn cash"?), the paper introduces readers to Kyle Obrecht, "who plays online poker and gambles at casinos to make rent." "Gambling has paid for me to live in the last couple of years," he's quoted as saying. I'm sure many students, trying to make it on Iowa's minimum wage, will be excited to learn from the Press-Citizen that gambling has "proven to be much more lucrative than any regular job" for him.

Moreover, it's easy to do. "At his first casino visit, Obrecht won $600 . . . [but] still plays online three days a week." Given his gambling riches it's not surprising that "Obrecht . . . said he is considering becoming a pro poker player on the side."

But there are other ways, even if not as lucrative, for students to make money from the gambling industry. "UI junior Anthony Lobaito, 21, said he found his job as a dealer at the Riverside Casino & Golf Resort through Jobnet. 'The pay is really good,' said Lobaito, who earns an hourly base pay of $5.50 . . .." Yeah, $5.50 sure beats $5.15 an hour. (Actually, it's the tips that attract him.)

I've known the Press-Citizen since I've been a kid. I helped a buddy deliver the papers at one point in my life. I have read it for many of the years since. I have written regular columns for the paper during the 1980s ("Communications Watch," which was ultimately in national syndication), and 1990s (about K-12 issues, while serving on the local school board), and from time to time since. I read it early every morning with my first cup of coffee.

So it gives me no pleasure to have to criticize the paper in strong language.

But I really do think that for any paper to promote gambling in this irresponsible, inaccurate way to young people, without balance, without saying something about the real odds of winning (laid out in detail in the UI piece linked below), the real disasters it has brougnt into the lives of many youngsters, and the treatment programs that are available, can only be described as "shameful."

Over the past couple of months I have posted a number of blog entries on the subject of gambling and the media's promotion of the new Riverside Casino that are listed, and linked, below. In one, titled "Gambling's Road to Nowhere" (see link, in list, below), I began:

Nobody but the house wins from gambling; seldom do gamblers win, even in the short run and virtually never in the long run. Like a fisherman who will tell you about the big ones he caught, but seldom about the entire days spent in a boat, or on the bank, without so much as a nibble, in my experience gamblers are notoriously poor bookkeepers when it comes to recording losses with the attention to detail they bring to their winnings."

I will give the reporter -- whom I have no reason to believe is anything other than an honorable, professional journalist -- that Kyle Obrecht actually said the things that are quoted and reported.

But were they confirmed? That even one student has found "online poker and . . . casinos" sufficiently profitable on a sustained, ongoing basis, to pay his rent and otherwise enable him "to live in the last couple years" is so outlandishly unbelievable that one would hope an editor would at least require the reporter to obtain, and share with the editor, the bookkeeping records that confirm the story.

Otherwise this is little more than a story -- and a very dangerous one at that -- about male college student braggadocio.

Gambling among young people is a serious problem in this country, as even a few minutes' search of the Internet will confirm. The references linked below are but a small, illustrative sampling.

The Nebraska report refers to studies by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. Those studies reveal such things as that
roughly one in four 18 year olds gambled in a casino during the prior 12 months, and that among the 55% of adolescents who are "casual or recreational gamblers," as many as 1.1 million kids between 12 and 18 are "pathological gamblers" -- a proportion as much as three times that for adults. Moreover, quoting from an NGISC report, "pathological gambling is associated with alcohol and drug use, truancy, low grades . . . and illegal activities to finance gambling." The Nebraska paper continues, "Problems with gambling . . . increases . . . the likelihood of being involved in violent incidents [and] an increased risk for attempted suicide."

The NCAA's Director of Agent, Gambling and Amateurism Activities has testified that "The advent of Internet wagering . . . raises even greater cause for concern." He refers to the concerns of the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others:

"A 1999 Gallup Poll reports that teenagers say they start betting on college sports at age 10 and . . . at twice the rate of adults. Called 'the addiction of the '90's' by the American Academy of Pediatrics, their research indicates that there are over one million United States teens who are addicted to gambling. A recent Harvard School of Medicine report estimates that six percent of teenagers under 18 have serious gambling problems."

Not only are there adverse impacts on the youths engaged in gambling, and their families, there are costs of various kinds -- including financial -- to be paid by the broader community as well.

A story about the losses from youthful gambling could be a real journalistic service to any community. A story about college students' gambling as one of the "new ways to earn cash," indeed, to offset rising tuition, pay the rent and other living expenses, a substitute for what we'd normally think of as student employment, is grossly irresponsible.

Deliberate misrepresentations regarding the consequences of risky behavior, as one in a series of articles promoting gambling in general and the nearby Riverside Casino in particular, is a serious matter.

I'm not suggesting a direct parallel, and I'm certainly not urging that anyone file a law suit. But I would note yesterday's story about the $200 billion dollar class action suit against the tobacco companies for their misrepresentation regarding the health benefits of their "light" cigarettes. See, e.g., Adam Hochberg, "Judge OKs Class-Action Suit by 'Light' Smokers," NPR Morning Edition, September 25, 2006.

I expect better than tobacco company ethics from my local paper.

Sampling of Online Information About Youthful Gambling and Gambling Generally

1. University of Iowa: Student Health/Health Iowa: Substance Abuse/Gambling on Campus.

2. Debra E. Schroeder and Rebecca L. Versch, "Youthful Gambling in the United States," NebFact, University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

3. International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors.

4. Gambling Problems, Villanova University.

5. William S. Saum, NCAA, Testimony Before the Judiciary Committee of the Nevada State Assembly, March 2, 2001.

6. Roger Dunstan, Gambling in California, January 1997.

Nicholas Johnson's Blogging About Gambling and Media Promotion of the Casino

Nicholas Johnson, "Mr. Editor, tear down this wall!" August 8, 2006;

Nicholas Johnson, "Gazette: 'Reputation at Stake,'" August 18, 2006;

Nicholas Johnson, "Gambling's Road to Nowhere," August 21, 2006;

Nicholas Johnson, "Coming P-C Casino Spread: Another Frosty?" August 22, 2006;

Nicholas Johnson, "Gambling: Same the Whole World Over," August 22, 2006;

Nicholas Johnson, "Press-Citizen: Promoting Casino Gambling?"
August 28, 2006;

Nicholas Johnson, "The Gazette: Promoting Casino Gambling?" August 28, 2006;

Nicholas Johnson, "Casino Offers Research Opportunity," August 29, 2006;

Nicholas Johnson, "Press-Citizen's 'Shuffle Up' Stories Available,"
August 30, 2006;

Nicholas Johnson, "Gazette Shames Press-Citizen," August 31, 2006;

Nicholas Johnson, "Out of Body, Out of Mind," September 1, 2006;

Nicholas Johnson, "Gambling and Paternalism,"
September 4, 2006;

Nicholas Johnson, "Royal Flush," September 7, 2006;

Nicholas Johnson, "Press-Citizen's Casino; Gazette's E-Frosty,"
September 14, 2006;

Nicholas Johnson, "UI Football Promoting Gambling?" September 16, 2006;

Nicholas Johnson, "Media on Casino's Leno," September 18, 2006;

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Anonymous said...

Take a look at how any of the papers in other casino communities cover gambling. Casinos make huge ad buys and the local media gives them nothing but favorable press. Our state, our municipalities, our media, and our neighbors are addicted to gambling.

Nick said...

Anonymous: Well said; that pretty much sums it up. -- Nick

Anonymous said...

and did you ever stop to think that maybe this Kyle Obrecht kid actually said and does everything that paper covered? and all he did was tell a reporter the truth in a 20 minute interview session. and that he had no say what got in the paper and what didn't or let alone that it got your attention to criticize it from being on the front page? you can critique the paper all you want, but please don't critique me or my poker skills when you don't know me.

Kyle Obrecht

Anonymous said...

Ummm. It is possible to make a living on cards as I have done it throughout my college years. I began playing online poker and it is no different than playing the stock market. Go to cardrunners.com to learn about all the young 20 somethings making millions of dollars. Type in these names on google and get back to me like you know what gambling is. POKER IS A SKILL GAME. Dustin Dirksen (from iowa city), Taylor Caby ( U of Illinois), Brian Hastings, andrew wiggins......you outsiders who only know gambling because you lost and couldn't find a way to win have to bash the ppl who have worked hard to get there. Im playing in the world series of poker and I went to U of Iowa and i will be having the time of my life while you sit behind your computer and complain your short life away.....

Ashley said...

Well, I'm coming to this a bit late. However, I wanted to say that I can attest that I'm sure everything Kyle said and that the paper reported was accurate. I've never played in a casino or played online for money, but I did know Kyle as he developed his poker skills and played poker with him over the course of many hours. I knew a lot of young, male college students who thought they knew poker but really had no clue. Kyle wasn't one of them.

There are many irresponsible, unskilled poker players who loose money playing poker online and in casinos. Those websites and the casinos make some money off of them, but smart, patient poker players like Kyle make a lot of money of off them as well.