2005-09-22

Money: Behind the Myth


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Chris Moneymaker: WSOP ChampionI've been reading Chris Moneymaker's Book. As its subtitle suggests, it is, in one sense a blow by blow account of how he parlayed his win in a $40 online satellite poker tournament into a million dollar World Series of Poker Championship. Also in the mix however, is the story of Moneymaker's gambling pilgramage - a journey which started in his childhood.

Turns out, the fairy tale picture of Moneymaker that we were sold during his miracle run in 2003 hides a darker reality - this guy is a gambling fiend! Gambling grew roots in his childhood, was unknowingly urged on at times by his parents, and had a severe impact on his life at many turns. For this one WSOP champion, there are thousands, maybe millions, who will not be rescued by a sudden, seven figure windfall. The jury is still out on whether this event will turn out to have worked for or against Moneymaker himself.

I'll cop to having only read 3 or 4 chapters so this is preliminary, but I'm curious to see how it will all be wrapped up at the end of the book. If I were Moneymaker, I don't care what I had in my bank account, I'd have had a hard time laying out all the ugliness for people to see. My hope is that this book will be more of a warning than an encouragement.

But this brings me to a bigger problem. While sex, drugs and alcohol get all the play as adolescent problems, gambling flies under the radar. Like those other vices, it undermines a teen's development, ruining their ability to form normal relationships, wreaking havoc on self-esteem, and unchecked it can be life-threatening via suicide. An Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery study found that 80% of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 had gambled in the past year, and more than 35% gamble weekly.

Once again, parents and leaders often unknowingly contribute to the problem when they allow or help their youth participate in things like football pools, lotteries, "casino nights," etc. Like any addiction, with the wrong person, it only takes minor exposure to set the hook.

A couple of months ago I stumbled onto a discussion of the poker craze in a Youth Pastor's forum, and was amazed at how many were taking the "sure I let them do it in the church, they're going to do it anyway" or "I'm connecting with their interests," tack on this. One youth pastor even bragged that he had put up a Hold'Em table in his youth room. So I guess if your youth developed a sudden interest in S&M you'd put in a dungeon?

The point is, gambling is probably one of the most ignored and underestimated serious problems facing children and teens, and, like sex, it too has gone mainstream. Media outlets are breaking the bank on this craze ... so who is going to point out the danger?

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