Increasing numbers of young people – including Acalanes High students – like their odds when it comes to gambling and betting


Nastia Grits, Acalanes High School

Betting and gambling are increasing in popularity for young people, including students at Acalanes High. Students are betting in online platforms as well as on sports.

Ella Alpert and Kea Yoshinaka, Acalanes High School

It takes $5  to push multicolored plastic chips to the center of a table. “Deal me in,” someone says confidently. Pretty soon, they are on a winning streak. With each victory, their pile of chips grows larger, the reward gets sweeter and the risk only becomes greater. 

This adrenaline-rushed cycle of reward and loss lures innumerable individuals, including Acalanes High School students, into betting and gambling.

While betting and gambling both revolve around the elements of risk and reward, there is one main difference between the two – bettors place stakes on events where they are somewhat able to analyze the outcome, whereas gamblers place stakes on events with completely uncertain outcomes. For example, someone bets on whether a sports team will win the championship game based on that team’s recent performance, and someone gambles when they play the lottery.

Today, betting and gambling permeate mainstream society. In an article from August 2021, Forbes declared that between April and June of 2021, U.S. gambling revenue hit $13.6 billion, which the American Gaming Association cited as a new industry record.

Some Aca;anes students say the growing appeal is a result of television shows’ and movie franchises’ widespread romanticization of gambling.

“Hollywood often portrays the actors that gamble in a cool way. It’s almost like you’re supposed to want to be them because they are slick and get away with everything. No matter what happens, they always ‘get the girl’ or ride off with all the money,” Acalanes senior Lauren Finegold said. 

Depending on the respective laws of each state, people need to be either at least 18 or 21 years old to legally bet and gamble. Regardless, students below these ages who seek the same sort of thrill often participate in legal games of skill that resemble gambling, such as fantasy sports. The federal government determines that fantasy sports are games that require skill rather than actual gambling, differentiating the two.

“[Our fantasy football league] was all my friends talked about for a solid few months. It was definitely a fun bonding activity. We would always go up to each other and ask ‘How is your fantasy team doing today?’” Acalanes senior Franny Daughters said.

Beyond fantasy sports, some Acalanes students venture into the actual realm of betting, with some students even running their own betting circles focused on local sports. These students act as bookies, people whose business is accepting others’ bets, facilitating odds for players to bet on either team.

“I just approached people around campus asking if they wanted to bet on the [Campolindo High School] versus Acalanes football game. That is the ‘big game’ for our school, so people are most interested in it,” one Acalanes student said.

Preparation to run gambling around a focused event can be complex, including calculations, sign-ups, and weighted payments to take into account. A student running a betting circle might calculate the point values of two teams by comparing the win and loss margins of previous games and then marking up the possible profits for those betting on the underdog team. 

“The returns are weighted so that betting against Acalanes gets a higher return of 1.9 compared to the return of 1.5 for Acalanes. At that point, I let the game happen,” the student said.

While some students who engage in betting prefer physically talking to peers about betting circles, other students take a liking to virtual gambling by contacting bookies online. Although the minimum age to bet through a bookie in California is 21, not everyone adheres to those rules.

“[My bookie and I met] through text. They never even questioned our age, which was funny. I’ve never lied about anything,” a second Acalanes student said.

Student bookies who run betting circles online mention the risk they take as they must contribute money to the process and thus often need to bet to gather enough funds.

“First, you have to win [bets] because you need to have enough money to support your next steps. You win and then you get a little bonus on the [betting] app. That money cannot be taken out. It has to be re-betted,” said a third Acalanes student who gambles. “If you gamble 20 bucks of your own money, and you win, then you win the money. If you are a bookie, then you are technically risking your own money. If they [the betters] win, then you have to pay them, and then there is just more money that is non-withdrawable and is still stuck in the app.”

Online gambling is becoming increasingly popular among young people, largely because of the prevalence of online gambling games. These games, such as Crash, offer teenagers the opportunity to gain large amounts of money in a small duration of time.

“Crash was basically like a game where a multiplier starts at zero, and exponentially grows from there. Then, it would crash, and if you didn’t pull out before it crashed, you would lose your money. For example, one time on Crash I put in 15 bucks, and I held it until about a six times multiplier, so I basically made $75 in the real world just like that,” said a fourth Aclanes student gambler.

Despite the possibility of losing great sums of money, many students do not regret their decision to gamble. These students find that they enjoy the experience of gambling regardless of whether they win money or not.

“This is going to sound weird because I’ve actually lost a good amount of money, but I don’t regret it. I knew going in that it was gambling, and that I was probably going to lose money … I actually don’t regret it because I had fun doing it,” the fourth Acalanes gambler said.

Although gambling is simply a fun activity for some students, gambling’s high-risk nature can be addictive and lead to a variety of economic and psychological troubles for other individuals. 

The public first recognized the physiatric disorder “problem gambling” in 1980, and people today generally acknowledge this disorder as “compulsive gambling”. Compulsive gambling is the uncontrollable urge to keep gambling despite the toll it takes on someone’s life, and the American Psychiatric Association renamed it “gambling disorder” in 2013 when they moved it to the Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders category.

Biological factors lead teenagers to inherently want to take risks and thus youth are highly susceptible to these potential dangers of betting and gambling.

“I think that people gamble and bet because of the rush of endorphins and adrenaline it gives them. The serotonin that fills their brain gets them addicted, and a lot of the time teenagers just have that feeling and run with it. It doesn’t matter that in the future they could be down a ton of money, because right now they feel that blinding rush. In that moment, they just feel happy,” Aclanes senior Lauren Finegold said.