Oregon authorities are worried about the impact of free gambling on Internet websites by youthful players following a recent survey by the state's Department of Human Services that claimed up to 30 percent of youths aged 12 to 17 – an estimated 94 659 young people – participated in free online gambling.
 
The Statesman Journal reports that the pastime has become the most popular gambling activity among youths in Oregon, so much so that officials are concerned, saying that it introduces teenagers to gambling.
 
"You're learning that gambling is fun, it's stimulating, and it's risk-free," said Wendy Hausotter, problem gambling prevention coordinator with the Oregon Department of Human Services. "That's not true at all."
 
Officials added that part of the problem was the easy accessibility, possible without parental supervision, and the SuperSlotshigh stimulation – low physical input that appeals to youths.
 
"It's the game of choice among youth, which is surprising for us," Hausotter said. "It wasn't on the radar screen."
 
Gambling on the Internet for money has remained fairly unpopular, with less than 1 percent of teens participating last year, officials said. Overall, gambling among youths has gone down in the past 10 years.
 
"We're not saying don't gamble," Yvonne Kays, a prevention health educator told The Statesman Journal. "Our message is, you need to recognize the risk factors and when it becomes a problem … It's a problem when you're spending too much time or money."
 
The fact that free online gambling doesn't involve money can be a draw for youths, who think they're not doing anything harmful, officials said.
 
"It disconnects them from the reality of the situation," Hausotter claimed. "We're afraid that they're going to want to do this more and more. If they do this with money, they're at risk for many things." She said state officials plan to meet with gambling prevention specialists next month to figure out how to curb free online gambling and get information out to parents and youth.
 
Statewide, a plan to tackle online gambling will probably be developed this summer in time to hit schools in the fall, Hausotter said. Strategies could include written material and classroom activities. "Just about every kid has a casino in their bedroom if they want," Hausotter said.