Help is free and confidential in Oregon for problem gamblers and their loved ones by calling 1-877-MY-LIMIT. For more information about problem gambling, visit
EUGENE, Ore. — On his 18th birthday, Bobby Hafemann tried his luck by purchasing his first lottery ticket — and won $500.
The purchase was his first legal gamble, but Hafemann’s sister Ronda Hatefi said in hindsight he had the signs of a gambling addict in his early childhood.
“As a kid he was obsessed with money,” said Hatefi. “We would go into an arcade and I’d put in a quarter, lose, then stop. Bobby would put in a quarter, lose, and keep going until he would win. If he lost too soon for him, he would beg for money. He would scrounge on the floor for money.”
Hatefi said her brother loved the thrill of winning and getting money fast. But Hatefi said that thrill turned into an addiction — a drug that resulted in a struggle with finances and depression.
Ten years after buying his first lottery ticket, Hafemann committed suicide.
“One in 10 gamblers contemplate suicide,” said Ronda Hatefi. “Is that something we’re willing to do with our youth?”
The flashy lights of Vegas are just a click, tap and download away for many Oregon youth. Addiction specialists say an unprecedented access to gambling programs through smartphones and the Internet are priming Oregon youth for gambling addiction and other risky behaviors.
“This is the first generation that we’ve ever seen of this type of gambling,” said Lane County Health & Human Services Prevention Specialist Julie Hynes. “More youth are gambling than ever before.”
Hynes said some children learn how to gamble from their parents as well but that it is more commonly learned among peers.
Data: Gambling starts as early as sixth grade
The latest data on Oregon students shows that gambling starts as early as sixth grade, and that youth who gamble are far more likely to have drunk alcohol, used marijuana, smoked cigarettes or have skipped school in the past month.
The data, tabulated by the Oregon Health Authority, focused on 6th-11th grade students across the state.
“They’re more likely to binge drink, they’re more likely to use marijuana, more likely to be skipping school, and more likely to be depressed and have suicidal attempts,” said Hynes.
“Risky behaviors go hand-in-hand”
Addiction specialists say the new data is alarming and raises concerns over youth gambling that could have devastating results.
“We’re not saying that gambling causes these other issues,” said Hynes. “but what the data clearly show is something that we’ve seen anecdotally for quite some time — that risky behaviors go hand-in-hand.”
According to state statistics, about 4% of Oregon teens are problem gamblers — teens whose gambling behavior has caused disruptions in any major area of life: psychological, physical, social or vocational.
“Different types of gambling that start out as free lead to more serious problem down the line,” said Hynes. “Online blackjack or poker, even when it’s free it grooms kids to see it as acceptable. The issue is when it turns into something that they’re getting more involved with and they start putting money on it.”
Gambling: ‘In a lot of ways more dangerous than drugs or alcohol’
Ronda Hatefi said many people don’t view gambling as severe of an addiction as alcohol or drug use, but said it can be considered even more dangerous.
“It’s actually in a lot of ways more dangerous than drugs or alcohol because it’s unseen it’s hidden,” said Hatefi. “They’re not slurring or stammering or falling over. You can’t tell by looking at someone if they gamble.”
Hynes said the new data may come as a surprise to parents, and suggests that they talk with kids in the same kinds of “talks” they might have about drugs, alcohol and sex.
“Share that gambling isn’t risk free. Discuss limits and safety. Monitor what they do online. And probably most importantly, set a good example.”
If you think your child or a family member has a gambling problem the county urges you to call their 24-hour gambling help line, 1-877-MY-LIMIT
Signs of Problem Gambling
Preoccupied with gambling
Secretive about gambling habits
Increasing bet amounts
Restless or irritable when not gambling
“Chasing” losses with more gambling
Committing crimes to pay for gambling