The state Gaming Commission is advising New Yorkers to make...

The state Gaming Commission is advising New Yorkers to make lottery tickets an adults-only gift this holiday season as part of a nationwide effort to reduce youth gambling. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Scratch-off tickets are a popular stocking stuffer every year for the loved one hoping to hit a long-shot jackpot.

But the state Gaming Commission is advising New Yorkers to save those Win for Life tickets for adults only this holiday season.

“Many times, a child’s first exposure to gambling comes in the form of a gifted lottery ticket from a well-meaning adult who may be unaware of the associated risks,” said Gaming Commission Chairman Brian O’Dwyer in a statement Monday issued as part Gift Responsibly, a national campaign that raises awareness about the risks of youth gambling.

“We encourage age-appropriate gifts this holiday season," O'Dwyer said.

Gambling among youth is a growing problem, according to data from the National Council on Problem Gambling, which created the campaign, along with the International Center for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors at McGill University in Montreal.

For example, approximately 60% of high-school-aged adolescents nationwide have reported gambling for money during the past year while many young people report that their first gambling experience occurred between the ages of 9 and 11, the data showed.

Between 4% and 6% of adolescents currently have a serious gambling problem, according to the data, while 10% to 14% more are at risk for developing an addiction.

And while among adolescents, males gamble more frequently than females, young girls are more actively involved in lottery play, officials said.

Jeffrey Reynolds, president and chief executive of the Family & Children’s Association in Garden City, said the commission's campaign is critically important, in part because of the state's legalization of online sports betting last year. The law allows anyone 21 and older to legally place sports bets on their phones at any time, anywhere in the state. It has helped turn New York into one of the nation's top online sports gambling locations, with $16.2 billion wagered last year, officials said.

"This is an important message, especially given the expansion of lottery games, casinos and legalized sports betting in New York State," Reynolds said. "We are seeing more and more young people gambling at earlier ages, and by the time they get to high school and college they are up to their ears in debt. New York State spends millions touting its dozens of scratch-off tickets and drawings and while this reminder is great, a bigger percentage of those dollars ought to be spent on preventing problem gambling year-round."

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