Last year, a 19-year-old youth from a small Iowa town, unable to face his large gambling losses, penned a short note, saying, "I'm out of control." Then he killed himself. Last spring, three New Jersey high-schoolers were arrested for running a $6,500 per week sports betting operation. In another case, a 16-year-old paid off his gambling debts by turning his girlfriend into a prostitute.

These and other published accounts illustrate how exorbitant a price American teens are paying for our ill-fated social experiment with legal gambling.

As more teens are being drawn into the culture of chance, gambling is influencing American society in deep and unexpected ways. Robert Goodman's new book "The Luck Business," while mostly an economic analysis of the gambling explosion, spells out how the pervasive worship of Lady Luck—on riverboat casinos, televised live lottery drawings, and at tempting theme-park casinos—alters our perspective on life. The idea that "hard work pays off" is now believed by only one of three people surveyed. In the 1960s, nearly 60 percent believed in the work ethic. We can count on this attitudinal sea change to affect our youth (and our nation's future).

Some experts believe problem gambling has become the fastest-growing teen addiction, suggesting there are as many as 1.3 million teens with problem gambling behavior. "We will face in the next decade or so more problems with youth gambling than we'll face with drug use," says the director of the Harvard Medical School Center for Addiction Studies.

The $480 billion lottery, wagering, and casino industry has spared few dollars in cultivating a cheery public persona. In Atlantic City, the gambling establishment's enticements have proved so irresistible that 30,000 ...

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