07/11/2013 02:57 pm ET Updated Sep 10, 2013

Crapping Out in New York: For Education

Whether NY voters consent to amend the state constitution to expand gambling is something that will likely be decided in November. What's certain is "Gambling for Education" will remain a trusted brand for Governor Cuomo and his handlers. The problem is the subtext: Gambling is Good for the Kids -- unlike adequate nutrition, adolescent problem gambling won't help build strong bodies or healthy minds.

Most adults appreciate the invaluable service carnival barking provides in the service of Albany's gambling policies -- how else do you keep convincing losers they'll win, so long as they keep losing? But when it comes to educating the kids, voters know the importance of leading by example. So before heading to the polls in November, it's worth considering whether more of the Albany example is really in their best interest.

State-sponsored gambling is already here, as are other permitted activities. But a proposal for the state-sponsored expansion of say, cigarette smoking or sugary junk food in schools would be roundly rejected and hailed as a public policy victory. Why -- not everyone eating such junk food becomes diabetic, and its marketing surely contributes to the state's economy and creates jobs? The answer assuredly has to do with education. And though Albany is a partner in educating children, it's a deeply conflicted partner by virtue of its promotion of gambling.

The New York State Education Department's Learning Standard for Personal Health and Fitness states,

Students will understand human growth and development and recognize the relationship between behaviors and healthy development. They will understand ways to promote health and prevent disease and will demonstrate and practice positive health behaviors.

This is evident, NYSED tells us, when students exhibit the ability to, among other things:

_ identify the harmful effects of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs

_ explain how eating nutritionally balanced meals and snacks promotes health

What parent wouldn't want their child receiving instruction on proper nutrition and the hazards of risky behaviors? It's also noteworthy NYSED isn't the only state agency reinforcing such guidance. Search results on the NYS Department of Health's website for Diabetes, Tobacco-Related Disease, Alcohol-Related Disease, and Drug Abuse return 3,830, 904, 862, and 882 documents respectively, and with good reason. For example, it's estimated nearly 8 percent of adolescents aged 12 - 17 years in the Empire State smoke cigarettes; alcohol use by those 12 - 20 years is reported to be over 30 percent, and as almost everyone with a pulse appreciates, diabetes is at epidemic proportions.

Using similar logic then, you'd expect a full-court press by Albany to address problem gambling, particularly among the kids. After all, NY already has a $3.7 billion annual gambling problem, and according to NYS's Gambling Behaviors and Problem Gambling Among Adolescents in New York State: Initial Findings from the 2006 OASAS School Survey,

Approximately 10 percent of students in grades 7-12 have experienced problem gambling in the past year and may need treatment services. An additional 10 percent of students may be at risk of developing problem gambling ...

Viewed in the context of how inextricably bound gambling problems are to the gambling policies promoted by Albany, this isn't surprising.

According to Mark Griffith, M.D., in Adolescent gambling: Risk factors and implications for prevention, intervention, and treatment,

At present, adolescent attitudes and views about gambling may be predominantly formed by the advertisements for gambling depicted in the mass media that present gambling as exciting and alluring. Such media portrayals may lead adolescents to believe that gambling is fun and exciting and that gambling is an easy way to make money. By providing adolescents with a more realistic view about gambling, it may be possible to limit their interest in gambling and restrict their participation.

[NYS Lottery is marketed in a variety of media, including online; $86 million and $92.1 million was spent doing so in 2011 and 2012, respectively.]

Discussing Adolescent Gambling as a Public Health Issue, Griftith goes on to explain, "Problem gambling is very much the "hidden" addiction. Unlike, say, alcoholism, there is no slurred speech and no stumbling into work."

So how many document search results for Problem Gambling are returned from the DOH website? If you guessed nine you'd be correct. What about for Adolescent Problem Gambling? Sorry, just three. And where is Problem Gambling featured in NYSED's Learning Standard? It isn't, and when I asked NYSED why, I was told, "It is important to note that while the Learning Standards focus on what is most essential [my emphasis], they do not describe all that can or should be taught."

Voters can decide for themselves whether Gambling for Education in New York is really code for Education in Support of Gambling, and whether they want more of what the carnival is selling -- for the kids, always for the kids.