"I've done it all," he said in a quiet voice. "I've been involved with drugs. I've stole, I've done a lot of things to maintain my gambling."
The confession is part of an effort by two New Jersey state assembly members and the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey to help call attention to and do something about gambling addiction among teenagers.
"The stories of teens falling prey to the temptations of gambling's get-rich quick image are too well documented," said local Assemblyman Anthony Impreveduto - the co-sponsor to two pieces of legislation that might help curb the gambling addition in New Jersey. "Too often these youthful dreams of bright light and life in the fast lane result in self-destruction."
Gambling is a bigger problem among teens than drugs are, according to Edward Looney, CCGNJ's executive director, who spoke at a press conference at Secaucus High School on Feb. 1.
In anticipation of the Super Bowl - which is the single biggest sporting day of the year - Impreveduto and Assemblyman Gary Guear (D-14th Dist.) unveiled two pieces of legislation that would help reduce teenage gambling. One piece would outline criminal penalties for teens caught gambling. The other would encourage education about the problem.
"Gambling in our society isn't just about money, it is about power," Richard explained. "It is about being on the cutting edge - a kind of adventure game with the unfortunate side effect of losing a life's savings."
People often start as kids, tossing for quarters, Looney said, and slowly evolve into serious addicts.
Richard said kids get caught up in the concept of being "a player," someone dancing on the edge who gets a high from the danger and excitement.
Several studies, according to Looney, show that gambling is more prevalent in high school and college than drug and alcohol use, and often accounts for a greater percentage of criminal activity than drug addition.
"Often, people don't even realize they are gambling, and society, failing to understand the significance of the problem, encourages gambling addicts without intending to," Looney said.
Many people get their gambling kicks through sports betting at work or school. But even the stock market has become as viable a venue for these addicts, with many people losing their livelihood through risky investments.
"A lot of people are into day trading, not to make money, but for the thrill," Looney said. "Day-trading and other kind of investment have become a significant problem for people with gambling problems."
Impreveduto said he is not coming out against gambling.
"We're not saying gambling is a bad thing," he said. "But it has to be appropriate and it can't be done by kids."
Impreveduto said the reason he made this announcement of the legislation two days before the Super Bowl was that that the Super Bowl was the biggest betting day of the year and that many people use that day to make up for losses made during the year. Experts in the field said that on this Super Bowl Sunday, more than $4 billion was bet illegally.
"For many youngsters with serious betting problems, Super Bowl Sunday has much more to do with wagering than athletic competition," Impreveduto said. "All the hype and promotion prior to Sunday's game titillate the interest of young people in betting. For many of them, the Super Bowl represents their introduction to gambling."
Later, Impreveduto said, high school and college students often live in fear of their bookies, and because they cannot make up their debts, they are beaten or forced to resort to more desperate methods such as theft and dealing in drugs.
"As a teacher, I'm in horror of gambling because I've seen what the gambling bug can do to our kids," Impreveduto said. One piece of legislation would give courts the option to sentence kids caught gambling to 100 hours of community service and suspend their driver's license for a year.
Most people don't see gambling as a problem
Many people won't tolerate alcohol abuse, but think little of the impact that gambling has on kids.
"Society sends the message that gambling is OK, but kids don't realize what they are getting into when they start," said Guear.
"Teenagers have been exposed to the glamorous side of wagering, but aren't aware of the serious dangers involved."
Richard said he was an gambling addict and that he had been involved in every sort of vice in order to support his habit. Looney said high schools and colleges have become the new landscape for mob-related gambling, with kids brought into the addiction through sports tickets, cards, even tossing of coins.
Organized crime uses kids in high school as bookies, and later, college kids may face serious difficulties as they get deeper and deeper into debt and face the real threat of violence.
"It is an epidemic," he said.
The American Psychiatric Association agreed in a 1980 decision that gambling can be an addiction similar to drugs with people needing to get a regular fix.
A second piece of legislation introduced by Impreveduto and Guear would require schools to provide education about the dangers gambling. The legislation would set aside $200,000 towards installing the program in schools across the state.
"Education is our most powerful weapon in fighting compulsive gambling among teenagers," Impreveduto said, noting that late last year, the Assembly Education Committee approved his legislation that would allow schools to include gambling addiction education with programs that deal with cigarette smoking, alcohol and drug use.
A 1998 study of more than 1,600 students in one specific area of the country showed that gambling is more widespread in schools than drug or alcohol use. While 36.8 percent of seventh graders reported using alcohol, 18.2 percent cigarettes and 3.5 percent drugs, 79.1 percent had engaged in some form of gambling. Of these, 30.4 percent said they had done so once or more a week. In the 11th grade, 26.5 percent of students said they had tried drugs at least once, 31.4 percent cigarettes, 20.2 alcohol, while 37.1 gambled.
Another study showed that 91 percent of 892 high school students had gambled at least once, 86 percent within the last year, and 32 percent of these gambled weekly. This same study showed that 46 percent of kids interviewed had borrowed money to gamble, while 10 percent admitted doing something illegal to get money for gambling.
Kids can get started in gambling as early as 9 years old, Looney said, and not feel the full impact until years later when their lives fall apart.
But some kids are in trouble even in school, as bookies - kids in high school, mobsters by the time kids reach college - seek to get paid for gambling debts.