North Carolina Schools Have Responsible Gambling Resource in Stacked Deck Program

Middle and high schools interested in teaching responsible gambling in North Carolina can receive state grants to offer the Stacked Deck program.

Run through the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Stacked Deck, per the NCDHHS website, is “the only [Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association] approved evidence-based curriculum for problem gambling prevention among teens and young adults.”

To receive a $5,000 grant to run the program, a school must have at least 30 students participate. The school will conduct surveys and pre-work to show preparedness and commitment to the program. As well, an NCDHHS specialist may conduct a site visit.

In the 2022-2023 school year, 22 middle and high schools and eight Boys and Girls Clubs throughout the state received the grant. NCSharp spoke with two educators who administer the seven-lesson curriculum at the middle- and high-school level.

Julie Hughes is a National Board Certified Teacher at Murphy High School in Murphy. She has taught the curriculum for nine years – the first five at Murphy Middle School before transferring to Murphy High. She teaches the program to about 30 students a year through a sports and event marketing class.

Amanda Daniels, the school counselor at Robbinsville High School in Robbinsville, is in her second year teaching the program. Daniels delivers Stacked Deck to the entire sophomore class of about 100 students.

Gambling prevention a goal for western NC schools

Murphy High School and Robbinsville High School are in the western part of the state, near two of the state’s three tribal casinos.

Murphy has a population under 2,000 people and sits just down Route 74 from Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino. Robbinsville, an even smaller town (population 620) in Grant County, is 30 miles from Cherokee Valley River. The visibility of the casino for students creates a unique challenge for North Carolina educators in this part of the state.

“I aim to increase awareness and prevention by implementing the Stacked Deck curriculum,” Hughes said. “Not only do we have a casino 2 miles away from the school, but there is also legalized gambling everywhere a person turns now.”

Daniels also expressed concern with the prevalence of gambling for her students. She called it the “gamblification or gamification” of the world as her students encounter it.

“The ultimate goal,” Daniels said, “is for students to experience changes in attitudes, beliefs, knowledge and behavior.”

Like many educators and parents of teenagers, controlling the flow and monitoring the sources of content teens consume through their electronic devices is nearly impossible. The best approach becomes teaching media literacy so they can become readers and not simply consumers of content – both digital and in the real world.

Framing problem gambling in the field of substance abuse

As NCSharp previously discussed with East Carolina University professor Dr. Michelle Malkin, a leading researcher in the field of problem gambling among young people, gambling addiction bears a close resemblance to substance addiction.

Most people didn’t consider it in these terms for a long time.

Instead, gambling addiction was seen as a behavioral flaw characterized by laziness and a lack of willpower. That has changed as research on people with compulsive gambling habits has found considerable changes in their brain chemistry while gambling. Dopamine levels spike in the brains of compulsive gamblers similarly to the brains of drug and alcohol users.

Stacked Deck frames the concept of problem gambling along these same lines.

“The curriculum identifies gambling as just as addictive as drugs or alcohol,” Daniels said. “It also goes over the symptoms of gambling disorder, and how it can affect adolescents.”

Some of those symptoms include chasing – trying to win back– lost bets, using IOUs or credit to continue gambling and holding out for “the big win.” In their daily lives, these symptoms also describe a teen who lies, appears moody and distracted, borrows money frequently and racks up unexplained absences from home, work and school. These are similar warning signs of teens with other addictions.

Hughes noted the clear parallels with drugs and alcohol.

“Stacked Deck does a terrific job labeling problem gambling right up there with drug and alcohol addiction,” Hughes said. “The repeated theme throughout the program is that gambling addiction is just as harmful to individuals, their family, friends and their community as any other vice.”

For Hughes, addiction is personal, and she has taken the undeniably brave path of using her own experiences to drive home the consequences of addiction.

“As someone who knows she struggles with gambling herself,” Hughes said, “I can talk to students about this from a personal standpoint, and students are not used to their teachers saying they have addictions themselves.”

Responsible gambling, financial responsibility at the adolescent level

Both educators discussed how the program tailored its lessons on financial responsibility and responsible gambling to teens.

“There is a skit that students have to do in this curriculum,” Hughes said, “where a high school student loses all of his college funds due to gambling and ends up living at home during his freshman year and giving up his sporting opportunity. It is always eye-opening to the students.”

The role-playing aspect of the course is effective in giving students a real-life problem-solving scenario that could easily confront them as they make the transition to college.

Daniels similarly highlighted the importance of developing digital literacy skills in a world of ubiquitous online gaming.

“In North Carolina,” Daniels said, “they have added a lesson on gaming disorder and digital media and a second lesson on digital media literacy.”

These lessons fill a “gap” for students in how they understand the aforementioned “gamblification” of the digital world.

The financial skills taught in this portion of the curriculum help students develop a critical understanding of the digital world that simultaneously awaits and surrounds them. This paradox confronts all teachers who spend less time introducing students to new media and content and more time helping students find their way through the media they already consume.

Students carry a laundry list of gambling misconceptions into the program

Both educators provided numerous examples of teenagers’ misconceptions about gambling, with Hughes joking the “list is endless.” These range from misguided beliefs about one’s gambling prowess to an understanding of what constitutes gambling.

“They are not aware of the definition of gambling, nor that many things they engage in are gambling,” Daniels said.

Things such as a small bet made during a pick-up game or even a March Madness bracket pool often seem so innocuous that they don’t register as gambling.

More significantly, Daniels said students believe “they have skills that will give them an advantage in gambling.” At the same time, Hughes stressed, “they ignore the Law of Averages,” or the concept that the frequency of an outcome will, over time, correspond with its probability. Both educators invoked this principle, which is central to the program, and Hughes explained how it leads to students “ignoring the true odds of winning.”

Misunderstanding probability, ignoring the “house edge” in any casino game and “chasing losses” are all part of what Daniels called the “illusion of control.”

Teens may be better prepared as North Carolina plans for online sports betting

With the expansion of legal sports betting and casinos in the past five years, most Americans are confronting the same misconceptions facing North Carolina’s teens.

In this sense, they are on similar ground to the teenagers exploring online apps, creating fantasy leagues and learning how to play card games with friends. Perhaps the clear difference between them is that, at least in North Carolina, programs like Stacked Deck are designed to support teenagers.

With the launch of online sports betting in North Carolina in the next year, that support will be invaluable to teens and their parents confronting this significant expansion of legal gambling. To all North Carolinians, really.

Know a teen who needs someone to talk to about problem gambling?

More Than A Game is a gambling assistance program that gives North Carolinians a number of easy ways to get in touch and receive support. Run by the NCDHHS, More Than A Game can be reached in the following three ways:

Phone: 877-718-5543
Text: Send phrase morethanagamenc to 53342
Live chat: Via

About the Author

Tyler Andrews

Tyler is the Managing Editor for, covering sports, sports law, and gambling for the Tar Heel State. He has also covered similar topics for PlayTexas, PlayGeorgia, PlayCA, PlayFlorida, PlayOhio, and PlayMA. Tyler’s current focus is North Carolina’s pathway to gaming legalization.