Even non-betting youths see nothing wrong with gambling

Last of two parts

AS OFFICIALS of private high schools and colleges across Metro Manila grapple with the growing problem of sports gambling among their students, one mother has tried to take comfort in the fact that her teenaged son, unlike most of his classmates, has shown no interest in placing any bet. But she is nevertheless upset, she says, because the boy sees nothing wrong with what his classmates are doing.

“These kids don’t even realize gambling is against the law,” says the mother.

Other parents and school officials are similarly concerned that the current popularity of sports gambling among students is a mere indicator of a larger crisis. This means there can be no simple solution for it, but may need a multi-pronged approach.

“I think this is a wake-up call,” says a school administrator. “This is a deeper problem. We have been sending the wrong signals to our children.”

Indeed, experts like clinical psychiatrist Jay Madellon Carcereny say that children lured into gambling are victims of the distorted values imparted by their elders, including their parents and even public officials.

Investigations done by some schools support this, with their data indicating that the parents of many of the bettor-students are gamblers themselves, and either frequent casinos or regularly play mahjongg.

One parent also confides that she personally knows people who course their bets on basketball endings through their children. An anti-crime organization, meanwhile, says the parents of a female high school student were so happy when they found out the daughter won P300,000 that they encouraged her to keep on betting.

“It can be self-defeating because the values (taught in school) are not taught at home,” laments a school official. “They’re loosening the nuts that we’re trying to tighten.”

School administrators say the situation is complicated all the more by confusing signals from the government, which has legalized some forms of gambling, including sports betting.

“Is gambling good or bad? The message from government is, if it is authorized, it is okay, it is legal. When it is not authorized, it is bad, it is illegal,” says a frustrated and confused educator.

The state, through the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation or Pagcor, is into the operation of games of chance to generate funds for development projects and to fight illegal gambling. Last year, Pagcor ventured into sports betting, describing the wager as “a way of life” to many Filipinos.

Estimating the gaming market in the country to be over P100 billion annually, Pagcor launched in April 2003 “Basketball Jackpot,” a betting game based on the scores of the PBA games, and is set to launch this year “TeleSabong,” an online betting system where the game results are based on an outcome or series of outcomes of a four-cock derby.

But many Metro Manila private school officials fear that their students are getting introduced to the gambling “way of life” far too early.

To be sure, there are schools that still refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem, dismissing the bets placed by their students as too small to be bothered over. There are also those that say since the students do not place their bets while on campus, the matter should not be their concern, even if the payment of winnings and collection of debts often take place inside school premises.

Other schools, however, have come up with tougher rules against gambling inside and near their vicinity, and are consulting each other on how to control and combat what they see as a scourge. Two schools have also gone as far as revising their student’s handbook so that even gambling-related activities such as payment of winnings and bet collection now have penalties.

Another school has banned cell phones inside the campus and put a P500 cap on the amount of money students can bring to school. In enforcing the new rule, the school conducts random searches among its students.

In a series of letters, the school also asked parents not to “encourage, participate in, or show any toleration for gambling.” Parents were advised not to pay any debt incurred from gambling and to disclose any gambling-related information that they know. Students and parents who come forward to admit guilt and share information have been assured of “compassionate treatment.”

In addition, parents were alerted that April 15 to June is the peak season for gambling because of the NBA playoffs. (Cell-phone firms send out infotexts to subscribers to announce that real time information-scores, standings, schedules-about the National Basketball Association playoffs are available through SMS.)

Starting this school year, the school has decided to include in its curriculum a discussion on the various aspects of gambling inside the classroom. Teaching modules on the subject prepared by faculty members would be used in the class during homeroom periods.

Aside from conducting investigations, schools have invited experts to discuss the ill effects of gambling and outline potential solutions to the problem.

But educators admit they are stumped over how to pinpoint and punish the bookies among their students. When one school tried to tell the parents of one teenager that their son may have been taking money wagers from his classmates, for instance, the reply was downright hostile: The parents threatened to sue if the school could not produce any evidence.

Schools admit hard evidence is difficult to come by, and those placing bets are unlikely to speak up.

Social worker Eva Lawas of the Department of Social Welfare and Development notes that even students who are expected to know better — the class topnotchers — can be tempted to gamble.

“Being academically prepared is different from being emotionally stable,” she comments. “You could be the brightest child but you can be the weakest in terms of emotions.”

A school official observes as well, “It is also this consumerism. Students who win treat everybody and buy many things so others envy them and would want to strike big time on their own.”

In truth, there are those who suspect that the bookies’ practice of handing a student’s winnings in front of everyone in class is part of an enticement campaign to hook others in. The P300,000 winner mentioned earlier, for instance, was handed her check in class. The following week, her family bought a new Hyundai Starex van, which was partly financed by her winnings.

Lawas agrees with clinical psychiatrist Carcereny that anyone addicted to gambling could become addicted to drugs and other vices later in life.

But Lawas and Carcereny also say this should not be taken as a foregone conclusion. The first step in correcting the problem, they say, is for the child and the parents to acknowledge that there is one.

Lawas says that at some point, parents must also be able to find the courage to report and file a complaint before the proper authorities.

“The government cannot do anything kung tsismis lang (if it’s just a rumor),” she says. “The government can do something if it is written and filed accordingly.”

In some places, however, illegal gambling, including sports gambling, is no secret to the police, but authorities have not lifted a finger to stop it because they are allegedly in the financier’s pocket, says Sam, a bookie who collects game-ending bets for a financier in Manila.

Still Sam claims that collectors like him are not completely out of the woods. He says some policemen would still wait and pick up bookie collectors while on their way to deliver money to the financier to make a quick extra buck.

Financiers negotiate for the release of the collectors once informed of the “arrest,” Sam says. Negotiations allegedly take place while the police take the collector to a “cruise” in the city.

The “negotiating” rate is about P5,000 if the collector has not been hauled off to the police station, but goes up to P15,000 to P20,000 if he has, according to Sam.

So far, however, Education Secretary Edilberto de Jesus says he has not heard about the problem of gambling in private schools. He adds that as a matter of policy, the Department of Education, which exercises only oversight functions over private schools, allows these institutions to solve their own problems.

“They’re private anyway, and we also have a lot to work to do with the public schools,” de Jesus points out.

Some of that work, however, may also involve keeping public school students away from gambling.

A survey done by the Citizens’ Action Against Crime-Movement for the Restoration of Peace and Order (CAAC-MRPO) showed that in poorer schools, students pool their meager baon (lunch money) just to meet the minimum bet of P50. Sometimes the whole class participates with students chipping in P1 each. Just like the students in exclusive schools, the children bet on the games of the NBA, as well as those of the homegrown professional league.

Sam the bookie confirms that some of his clients are minors — “about 15 years old.” He says he accepts the youngsters’ bets because “that’s still money.”

Warning Signs

Some schools have issued guidelines for parents who suspect their child may be into sports gambling. They say parents may want to watch out for:

  • Increasing cell phone bill (infotext)
  • Text message that states the name of a team (odds or winning team betting), or the word high or low (for high/low betting)
  • Increased deposit or withdrawal from bank accounts
  • Sudden loss or gain of money
  • Frequent use of internet: access to sites for odds and other information
  • Mysterious phone calls: use of coded “gambling language”
  • Unusual, deep and overreaction to results of game
  • Loss of jewelry, watches, cell phones
  • Purchase of new and expensive things
  • Borrowing money from family members and friends
  • Stealing, fighting, threatening
  • Influence of relatives (siblings, cousins) who are involved in gambling