Gambling is usually a hidden addiction, so parents must watch for clues. Learn more about how to help your child with a gambling addiction.

“God, I am so sick. Please help me,” Jerry Prosapio pleaded as he hung precariously over a gaping hole of gambling addiction. His road to addiction began 22 years earlier with penny-ante poker games in the basement. He was 9 years old. “I enjoyed the risk,” Jerry recalls.

Later in high school, he became a sports-card bookie. Then after he graduated from high school, his parents took him to the horse track. His dad put $2 down for him, and Jerry walked out with $80 — his first big win. He was hooked for the next 14 years.

The day he was supposed to graduate from university, he was at the racetrack instead. At age 28, Jerry married Pat and promised no more gambling. But addicts don’t keep promises; he simply lied and sank deeper into the hole.

“I began to do drugs and drink . . . became a Las Vegas high roller,” Jerry says. “My entire marriage was based on lies. I maxed out 17 credit cards. My wife was going to have a nervous breakdown.” Pat had just given birth to their first baby, Brian, when in desperation, Jerry borrowed money from the Mafia. When they came to collect, Jerry’s fragile world finally collapsed.

“Tell Jerry that Brian has a beautifully shaped head and that I stopped by to see him,” a Mafia visitor told Pat. Terrified by the threat to his family, Jerry confessed his addiction and begged God for help. “It was the first time in my adult life that I was totally honest.”

What began as third-grade poker games had grown into an obsession that nearly destroyed him and his family. However, Jerry is fortunate. With God’s help, he escaped his addiction. Today he is the co-founder of Gambling Exposed, a ministry that helps parents and churches deal with the dangers of gambling addiction.

The Wake-up Call

Millions of school kids just like Jerry have become hooked on gambling. They often begin gambling between the ages of 10 and 13. Australian studies have consistently shown that 60 to 80 per cent of adolescents have gambled. Despite the apparently strict barriers around race and sports betting, approximately one in five young people reported gambling on these products, according to the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. Clearly, gambling is not innocent entertainment for children; it’s a gateway to addiction.

Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t stop at gambling. Research on seventh- to 12th-graders in Oregon indicates that students who gamble are two to three times more likely to consume alcohol, take drugs, have sex or become violent. Other research shows that suicide attempts among pathological gamblers are higher than for all other addictions.

Notice the Warning Signs

Usually, gambling is a hidden addiction, so parents must watch for clues, such as:

  1. Money or valuables missing from the home.
  2. Excessive cash or an unexplained need for money.
  3. Unusual credit card charges.
  4. Sudden interest in sports, scores, point spreads.
  5. Withdrawal from friends and family.
  6. Depression, anxiety, sleeplessness.
  7. Missed classes or a decline in grades.
  8. Excessive or unusual phone calls.
  9. Excessive, unexplained time at neighbour’s homes or on the Internet.

How to Help with a Gambling Addiction

If you suspect your child has a problem with gambling, implement the three C’s:

Confront. Have an honest conversation with your child. Ultimately, admitting his problem will provide tremendous relief because he will no longer shoulder the burden alone.

Console. Just as Christ loves us, we must affirm our unconditional love for our children. Forgive, and ask God for guidance.

Counsel. Seek help for your child immediately. You can contact us or Gambling Help Online.

Final Thoughts on How to Help a Child with a Gambling Addiction

Remember: Parental approval or disapproval remains the strongest influence in a child’s life. As you walk alongside your child, give them grace and pray over them.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. Used with permission. Originally published at

Chad Hills

Chad Hills is a research and policy analyst on the issue of gambling and sexual health/abstinence-centred education for Focus on the Family. Educated in the sciences and various fields of research, Hills analyses new policies, investigates existing legislation and addresses the impact of gambling expansion and sex-education policies on families.

Hills writes, speaks and testifies from a pro-family stance against the harmful impacts of gambling and in support of character-based, abstinence-centred education. He encourages citizens to defend their families against dangerous policies, while helping nurture those who are — or have been — hurt by gambling addictions or sexual activity outside the context of marriage.

Tell your friends