Youth and Gambling

One of the challenges of growing up is making the right decisions under social pressure. The rapid expansion of the gambling industry has changed many people’s opinion about what is acceptable gambling — and how young we are when we start to gamble.

The study of young gamblers is in its infancy. The studies that have been done tell us that:

  • youth gambling rates in American and Canadian cities are about the same (52-89% of youth are gambling)
  • Informal types of games (cards, sports betting) are popular for underage gamblers
  • Youth tend to play games on a monthly to weekly basis, however, some youth gamble on a daily basis
  • 3 to 4% of youth run the risk of becoming a pathological gambler
  • Youth who have other problems (like substance abuse) are at greater risk of developing a gambling problem

(sources: NRC 1999, AFM, 1990, Nova Scotia Omnifacts, 1993)

Did you know…?

Q. Where young people are getting the money to gamble? 

  • 60% reported getting money from a job
  • 60% also indicated that they gamble with money given to them by their parents.

Q. What were the reasons for young people to gamble in the past year?

  • 89.2% reported that they wanted to have fun
  • 70.3% happen to win money
  • 28.4% wanted to take risks
  • 24.1% Wanted to feel a rush or feel excited
  • 20.7% Needed money
  • 15.3% Wanted to win back lost money
  • 8.6% watch a TV ad and though it looks fun, cool and interesting

Q. Is poker a problem for young people in Ontario?

  1. 18% (Almost 1 in % indicated being concerned about how much a friend played poker
  2. 13% reported that they sometimes spent more money that they could afford
  3. 6% indicated that they could see themselves making a living from poker

Q.  What is the gambling activity for Ontario’s youth?

  1. 54.8% Bet on a dare/challenge that they could do something
  2. 5.3% Played poker for money
  3. 25.5% bet on sporting events, games or pools
  4. 24.4% bought instant win and/or scratch tickets
  5. 19.6% played arcade and/or video games for money
  6. 16.2 Played dice for money
  7. 11.3% Bet and/or gamble on the internet

(Adapted from Within Limits 2007 Campaign materials, Responsible Gambling of Ontario;  “Teen Gambling in Ontario Behaviours and Perceptions Among 15 to 17 Year-Old, Responsible Gambling of Ontario, (2207);  “Patterns and Characteristics of Adolescent Gambling, “, Winters, K., Stinchfield R., & Fulkenson, J, Journal of Gambling Studies, (1993)

What are the risks for youth gamblers?

Since young peoples’ minds and bodies are still developing, it can be even more difficult for them to control impulses and make smart decisions about how and when to gamble.

Factors like feeling alienated, having trouble at school or having parents with bad gambling behaviour are just some of the reasons why youth develop problems. Peer pressure can also play a part in problem gambling. Some young people feel that gambling is a “rite of passage”. Others have nothing better to do than gamble.

Since gambling has become more socially acceptable for adults, it is easy for youth to downplay the seriousness of a gambling problem and blame it on other factors.

The fact that it is illegal to gamble can be part of the thrill for young gamblers. Even though by law, minors are prohibited from gaming venues, there are many other ways that youth can get involved in gaming activities.

According to Stats Canada, 2002 Mental Health and Well-being Survey (CCHS 1.2)”

  • the risk for problem gambling was higher in the 15-24 years age group
  • Among 15-24 year-olds 5.8% were at risk for or were identified as problem gamblers
  • 3.6% were at some, but low risk
  • 1.8% were at moderate risk
  • 0.4% were considered problem gamblers

The McGill University International Centre for Youth Gambling and High-Risk Behaviours  found that:

  • Approximately 70% of Canadian teens engage in some form of gambling
  • Gambling among teens has increased over the last 20 years
  • More young men that women gamble
  • Gambling problems among youth are associated with poor coping skills
  • Between 4 to 8% of adolescents have a serious gambling problem
  • 10-15% are at risk
  • Youth with serious gambling problems are at a greater risk of thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts
  • The shift from social to problem gambling is more rapid among youth

Signs of Problem Gambling Among Youth

  • Cannot confide
  • Feels ignored, anxious, worried, depressed
  • Negative school experiences
  • Early first gambling experience
  • Uses  gambling “lingo”
  • Active in other risk behaviours

Empower Youth

Reducing the Risk: Harm Reduction

  • Don’t push for abstinence – allow for choice.
  • Encourage informed decisions – don’t try
    o scare.
  • Provide sound information.
  • Communicate positive messages.

How to talk to your child about gambling and problem gambling (it) 

  • Look for a time to raise the topic naturally, e.g. after seeing a commercial to a casino or finding out that a friend has won or lost money gambling.
  • Ask questions first.  Explore your child’s own ideas and feelings about gambling before giving information or offering your own opinions 
  • Be patient.  It may take several discussions before your child understands the ideas that you want to convey. 

Adapted from the Responsible Gambling Council of Ontario, Talk to your teens about gambling” brochure.

The Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, Mental Health and Addiction Branch funds the YMCA Youth Gambling Program,.  This program addresses the need of youth between the ages of 8-24 years old, by offering education and awareness presentation and uses harm reduction strategies to support youth in making informed and smart choices about gambling. (