Skip to main content

The Unrecognized Risks of Gambling for Male High School Athletes: Male Athletes Drove Recent Poker Craze and Are at Higher Risk of Gambling Problems

Although athletics is a healthy and popular extracurricular activity in American high schools, it also has its risks. The recent poker craze among adolescents in the U.S. was driven largely by interest in poker play among high school male athletes, a just-released analysis of adolescent gambling in the National Annenberg Surveys of Youth (NASY) indicates. The analysis conducted by the Adolescent Communication Institute at the Annenberg Public Policy Center examined the responses of over 2,000 high school males over the period of 2002 to 2008. It found that the rise in gambling on cards among high school age youth that occurred from 2003 to 2006 was attributable primarily to male youth who participated frequently in sports, about 55% of high school males. As seen in Figure 1 below, at its peak in 2005 over 19% of male athletes reported playing cards at least once a week. This was compared to less than 4% of males who did not participate in athletics on a frequent basis (see also Table 2 below). The survey indicated that female youth were much less likely to engage in poker play at all and were therefore not a focus of the study.
The findings suggest that high-status male youth, a group that includes athletes, were at the center of the poker craze that occurred during the last decade. High-status students tend to have close-knit peer networks that enable them to organize poker and other parties at their homes. Other youth, who were likely left out of these networks, were less likely to gamble, and when they did tended to engage in more formal gambling activities (e.g., state lotteries and slot machine parlors) that do not require the cooperation of peers. Moreover, in most states these gambling activities are restricted to persons at least 18 years of age and would therefore be off limits to most high school age youth.