Dear Dr. Wallace:

My best two buddies and I always bet each other on major sporting events such as the Super Bowl, NCAA basketball championship, and World Series. We bet $10 or less per game and sometimes our dads join in. This really bothers my mother, because she is very religious. She says that gambling is a sin and betting on games can lead to compulsive gambling. What can I do to convince her that my buddies and our dads are not sinners and this won’t lead to compulsive gambling?

Did you ever gamble on a game when you were a teen?

— Jerry, Seattle, Wash.

Dear Jerry: Your mother has a right to be concerned. In the past decade, our society has accepted gambling as a normal part of life. Even some churches, schools and charitable organizations sponsor raffles and “games of chance” as a method of raising funds. Right now, 41 states have state lotteries — buy a $1 ticket and have a chance to win $20 million. And it seems like Las Vegas opens a new mega-casino nearly every year. Fifteen states now offer legalized gambling, and their casinos, usually floating on rivers and lakes, are packed. Travelers on the cruise ships can “kill” a little time playing the slot machines or be dealt a hand of blackjack. High rollers and broken down cowboys slug it out in poker games on television.

According to Gamblers Anonymous, America’s gambling habit is over $900 billion annually and growing. If all the illegal bookies in the United States were arrested on the same day, our overloaded judicial system would not be able to handle the caseload.

Fifteen years ago, 3 million Americans were identified as compulsive gamblers. Today the estimate is 15 million — and many of this number are teenagers. Movies portray compulsive gamblers as either burned-out lowlifes or slick high rollers. But “In real life, compulsive gamblers are regular people, carpenters, teachers, doctors, lawyers, students and even members of the clergy,” says Dr. Valerie Lorenz, executive director of the Compulsive Gambling Center.

According to Dr. Lorenz, those who gamble are probably competitive, intelligent, charming and sports-minded. They get a high cashing in their winning ticket, even though they spend a lot more time tossing the losing tickets into the trash bins. Most compulsive gamblers started their habits laying a few small bets with friends.

Did I ever lay a few dollars on a game when I was a teenager? I refuse to answer on the grounds that I would be found guilty!

Dear Dr. Wallace: I’m a 14-year-old girl who was adopted when I was a baby. I’m an only child and I live with my adoptive parents. My problem is that they’re very strict. They won’t allow me to date (all my friends can) and I have a 10 p.m. curfew on the weekends. If I get poor grades I’m grounded and when I got caught skipping school (no big deal) they both cried.

I’d like to know if it’s possible to disown these adoptive parents and get another set? If so, how do I do it?

— Nameless, Miami, Fla.

Dear Nameless: Your adoptive parents are legally your mother and father and you’re very fortunate that they are. The rules you mentioned are reasonable. Many 14-year-old girls are not allowed to date and many have weekend curfews of 9 or 9:30 p.m. And for your information, skipping school is, indeed, a big deal.

Try your best to obey the rules set down by mom and dad. They make these rules to give you direction so that you will have the chance to live a happy life. Hang in there! As you get older, you’ll get more freedoms when you display a degree of maturity.

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