It's shocking how young people are when they're first exposed to gambling, according to folks behind new research out of The College of New Jersey and the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey.

The issue is only expected to worsen, given the ability to wager right on a phone or tablet.

But the adults in a youth's life can make a difference and limit the potential impact of a wagering habit down the line, experts suggest.

In a survey of young New Jersey adults, a little more than three-quarters said their "introduction to gambling" occurred between the ages of 6 and 16. A third indicated that gambling was occurring around them before the age of 11.

"Family gambling traditions may seem benign, but they can lead to serious problems later in life," said Felicia Grondin, CCGNJ's executive director.

"Family betting traditions" were cited by 85% of survey respondents. Activities range from trying one's luck on a lottery scratch-off, to taking a trip to the racetrack.

Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey
Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey

About six in 10 poll respondents said they currently engage in some form of betting. Nearly half say they gamble at least once a week. More than a fifth say they wager money three to four times per week.

Since June 2018, when sports betting became legal in New Jersey, calls to CCGNJ's helpline have increased by 277%, Grondin said. Calls from 18-to-24-year-olds once accounted for 11% of calls; now they represent 19% of call volume. And calls from people aged 25 to 34 account for more a third of today's calls to the helpline.

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Grondin calls the survey's results "very troubling," saying they reflect New Jersey's "pro gambling culture, which increasingly normalizes betting."

"There's a huge social cost and we really need to start thinking about our young people," Grondin said.

CCGNJ, which is neither for nor or against gambling, is advocating for a bill in the New Jersey Legislature that would require school districts to provide instruction on the risks of compulsive gambling as part of health education.

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