Las Vegas is finally coming clean with what it's really about, after abandoning its ad campaign representing it as a family destination in the 1990s. Some people may not have gotten...

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Las Vegas is finally coming clean with what it’s really about, after abandoning its ad campaign representing it as a family destination in the 1990s. Some people may not have gotten the news, but just look at the theme of the most recent commercials promoting tourism there: “What happens here, stays here.”

Does that sound like a trip to Orlando? Not quite. And that’s why families considering a vacation to Las Vegas should contemplate the potential effect it could have on their children. Even though the city remains a fun tourist destination, when youngsters are exposed to this environment, they may bring home something more than just a souvenir from the Strip.

Compulsive gambling is taking its toll on the younger generation, just as it has for decades among more mature adults. According to a recent report from the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems, more than 30 percent of all high-school students nationwide say they gamble. The International Center for Youth Gambling Problems, at McGill University in Montreal, estimates that while only 3 percent of mature adults have a problem with compulsive gambling, as many as 8 percent of young gamblers do.

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None of these recent studies mentions Las Vegas specifically, but consider the fact that the experts believe that gamblers who start young are also the ones most likely to develop abusive addictions later on. That is why a trip to Las Vegas with young children should be given serious thought.

And it’s not just gambling that might be age-inappropriate for the family. Places such as the MGM Grand have already trashed their child-oriented theme parks to put in shopping galleries and night clubs for mature adults. Even the pirate battle outside Treasure Island has been revamped — some of the male buccaneers have been kicked out to make room for “Sexy Sirens.”

The new ads seem to speak to a singles scene of partying and dancing, but gambling has always been and remains at the core of the Las Vegas experience. That leaves today’s families in a vacation bind. Las Vegas is, after all, still one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. And it has earned that reputation for good reason. Bargain rates for hotels, shows and eating all conveniently located together make this spot a first-rate vacation at any time of year. Yet, honestly, hasn’t Las Vegas really been strictly for mature people who have the best chance of handling its temptations all along?

To be sure, opportunities to gamble exist throughout the United States and even on the Internet. Wherever people live, they are within driving distance of American Indian casinos. This makes the activity hard for parents to regulate. But they certainly do not have to actively encourage gambling behavior for their children.

When on vacation, we tend to take things for granted in order to relax. Now, with the threat of terrorism, it is difficult to do so as the scene at any airport can testify. But just as people must be prepped for potential dangers in a visit to any tourist area, they must also be informed about the influence that all the hype and glitz about the glamour of gambling and the excitement of adult-oriented night clubs may have on their children.

Commentator Mark Gottdiener is a professor of sociology at The State University of New York at Buffalo. He also is the author of 14 books, including “Las Vegas: The Social Production of an All American City.”