Information on gambling

International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors

McGill University                                    Français  Facebook Youtube

Media | Information on gambling

Information on gambling

Youth Gambling and Problem Gambling

Although problem gambling has been primarily thought of as an adult behaviour, gambling activities appear to be particularly attractive to today's youth. In fact, prevalence studies conducted in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Europe, and Australia have noted rising prevalence rates of youth involvement in both legal and illegal forms of gambling. While approximately 60% of adolescents report having gambled for money during the past year, 4-6% of adolescents presently have a serious gambling problem with another 10-14% of adolescents at-risk for developing a serious gambling problem. Yet, for most parents and teens, gambling is viewed as an innocuous behaviour with few negative consequences.

When do youth begin gambling?

Gambling has become a widely accepted activity in many cultures. It is not unusual for parents to purchase lottery tickets for their children or to take them to play Bingo. Retrospective studies found that adult problem gamblers reported an earlier onset of gambling, often beginning between the ages of 10-19, with some studies showing children as young as 9 years old beginning gambling. Similar results were found in several of our studies, as well as in other studies conducted throughout the world.

Negative consequences associated with adolescent problem gambling

Problematic gambling among adolescents has been linked with increased delinquency and criminal behaviour, as well as the disruption of family and peer relationships. Problem gambling can also negatively affect overall school performance and work activities. While youth may present with different initial symptoms than adults, they nevertheless share similar characteristics. For example, adolescent problem gamblers report a preoccupation with gambling, sacrificing school, work, parental and peer relationships in order to continue gambling.

Reasons for gambling

Contrary to public opinion, our research and clinical work suggests that money is not the only reason why adolescents gamble excessively. Rather, it appears that money is used as a vehicle which enables individuals to continue playing. When playing, adolescents with serious gambling problems report that nothing else matters and that they are able to forget about their problems. The three predominant reasons adolescents report gambling (a) the excitement it brings, (b) enjoyment, and (c) to win money. Other reasons adolescents may gamble include peer pressure and to relieve feelings of depression. Some of our recent research suggests that youth also engage in gambling to relieve their boredom.

What has research taught us about adolescents with serious gambling problems:

Adolescent problem gamblers:

  • are more likely to be boys but girls seem to be catching up
  • are overly represented as a group compared to adult problem gamblers
  • are greater risk takers in general
  • often show signs of lower self esteem
  • tend to report higher rates of depression
  • often gamble to escape problems
  • are more likely to develop an addiction
  • seem to be more excitable and outgoing
  • are more anxious and less self-disciplined
  • are at greater risk for suicide ideation and suicide attempts
  • often replace their regular friends with gambling acquaintances
  • have poor general coping skills
  • report beginning gambling at an early age (approximately 10)
  • often recall an early big win
  • report more daily hassles and major traumatic life events
  • often have parents, relatives, or friends who gamble
  • are more likely to be delinquent and involved in criminal activities to acquire money
  • develop problems with family and friends
  • move quickly from just gambling with friends and family to problem gambling
  • show decreased academic performance