Michigan Group Takes Issue With Tribal Casinos Targeting Teen Gamblers

Upper Peninsula tribe has advertised 18th birthday celebrations at its casinos

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Web advertisements targeting teenage gamblers from some of the tribal casinos in the Upper Peninsula have drawn the attention of the Michigan Association on Problem Gambling (MAPG).

The websites of the Turtle Creek Casino & Hotel and the Leelanau Sands Casino & Lodge have pages urging teenagers to celebrate their 18th birthdays at the casinos, both of which are owned and operated by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

“Come celebrate your 18th birthday at Leelanau Sands Casino, one of Michigan’s premier Las Vegas-style open-floor casinos. Top it off with accommodations at our hotel and get ready for an unforgettable birthday weekend!” the ad at Leelanau Sands states.

Michael Burke, president of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG)-affiliated MAPG, said his group would like to see casino operators refrain from targeting teenagers, since studies show that many people begin developing gambling addictions in adolescence.

“What we would like to see is all the Native American tribes and commercial casino operators to be more responsible with their programs and take advantage of the information that’s out there,” Burke said. “There are many, many people being injured, and one way to help is to put an end to some of that and by having honesty in advertising.”

Addiction issues often arise in adolescence

Burke also said teenagers often are more susceptible to promotions such as “free bets” or “risk-free” bets that often aren’t what they first appear once you read the fine print.

“The biggest problem we have is stigma,” Burke said. “That’s why the young people especially are not going to get out there and talk about their gambling, because they’re losing money. It makes the problem worse and worse because they get behind and start chasing to get the money back. They really end up in a hole. The more awareness we can put out there, the better chance we have to get these young people to talk about it. Only one in 10 seek treatment. That’s terrifying.”

Asked for their reaction to the MAPG’s concerns about their ads, a Grand Traverse spokeswoman said the tribe would “have to pass on being a part of this article.”

Each state sets its own minimum age for gambling, but Native American casinos are exempt from state jurisdiction and can lower the minimum age to 18 on floors where no alcohol is served under the federal Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act. Aside from those areas at tribal casinos, the minimum age to gamble in Michigan is 21, including at the three Detroit-area casinos.

In a report released earlier this month, the NCPG identified Michigan as one of four states that offer online casino gambling which “fall drastically short of NCPG’s minimum responsible gambling standards,” along with Delaware, Nevada, and West Virginia.

The NCPG is based in Washington, D.C., and offers a 24-hour problem gambling helpline at 1-800-GAMBLER or via www.1800gamblerchat.org.

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