Phones and Online Gambling
Dear Ms. Smartphone: I like to keep my teaching relevant and I read this week that there is an app to wager on the punctuality of airlines over the Thanksgiving holiday. I teach math at a community college and wanted to use the app to introduce the students to probability theory. When I mentioned the phone app to my colleagues they strongly recommended that I not use it even though many of my students will be flying over this holiday. Yes or No to phones and online gambling? Gustav, San Francisco
Dear Gustav: There’s no doubt that some of your students will get delayed in the airport on the way to Grandma’s and could update their bets in real time. It’s a novel idea, and you will find a fuller description here. There are multiple wagers to be made: which airline will have the most delays, which airport will have the most canceled flights, and so forth. The bets are from $5.00 to $50.00 but can be increased with a phone call.
While I see that this would be a real-world example for your math class (JetBlue is a long shot with 9:1 odds) I side with your colleagues and suggest that you defer from bringing phones and online gambling to class. While the students might find it edgy and relevant, the material may also open the door to misconduct.
Based on your query I played with BetUS.com.pa (pun intended). It turns out that the gambling company is registered offshore, not in the U.S. and that’s the first red flag. Kids need to understand that. But there’s more: As I scrolled through the site there were prominent links for sports games, cards and casinos, and races. BetUS did add a new page called “Novelty” that opens to the holiday airline betting but it did not add obvious site links to get there! That said, I have do doubt that your students could find the back-door to the page with the odds ratios faster than I did.
The other reason I discourage you from bringing this real-life example to your classroom is more serious. If you have ever visited Reno or Las Vegas, you know that young-ones are chased off the floor. Perhaps some of your college students have not turned 18 yet. Here’s the double standard- you cannot enter a casino site until you are 18, actually 21 in some states. Yet you can wager online at any age, as long as you can subtract your current age from the current year and testify online that it’s 18 or more.
Time Not Spent:
But the biggest red flag is that I would not want, as an educator, to expose young adults, or teens, or tweens, to anything that will further preoccupy them on their phones. Online betting, like an online auction, is going to keep them glued to their phones. Successful execution means they will need to be on top of real time updates, the weather, and other changes. My previous column about online investing is relevant. A classwork assignment on the phone isn’t going to be well received at the Thanksgiving table.
There is a bigger issue here. According to Pew research the percentage of students, in this case high school age, with a gambling problem is double that of adults. 60 to 80 percent of high school students report having gambled for money in the past year (2021). This was probably related to the pandemic, but between 4 and 6 percent of high schoolers are considered addicted to gambling. In Virginia the state passed a law this year requiring all public schools to teach students about the risks.
We can’t jump into the brain of a young adult, but for lots of reasons, online gambling on phones seems to be tailor made. Kids need money, they desire to experience the thrills and highs and they seek the social status that comes with gambling successes. There are elements of both skill and chance, and it’s visually stimulating. That said, these are many of the same reasons that phones are said to be addictive, and why we all have such a hard time putting them down.
This becomes even more challenging for the teenage/young adult brain- where emotions and logic are still developing. Gambling can become an addictive behavior that rewards the brain in ways similar to drugs and alcohol.
BetUS.com may have come up with a clever way to spice up the holidays as they add travel wagers to the fate of cranberries and stuffing. Of course, the grown-ups in the room might already have their phones attuned for the pre-meal football games.