Study Shows Teen Gambling Online More Common Than Ever

How common is gambling among teens?

A new study published in the open access journal BioMed Central explores this question as part of a broader survey of addiction in young people.  Conducted by researchers from the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the study  shows that 42 percent of teens in three Canadian provinces reported gambling in some form recently.     Focusing on schools in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador,  the study looked at 10,035 students in Grades 9 to 12 (aged 13 to 19) taking part in the 2012-2013 Youth Gambling Survey.   Researchers also used a newly-developed psychometric scale measuring problem gambling in adolescents.  According to scale results, 36 percent of adolescents gambling online and offline had a score indicating a potential gambling problem.

"A substantially high proportion of young people are gambling in general, and mostly in unregulated forms, like in a dare or a game of pool, which are accessible to youth," says lead researcher Tara Elton-Marshall.   A Scientist Social and Epidemiological Research at CAMH, Dr. Marshall suggests that the high proportion of teen gambling is especially worrying considering that it may lead to even more severe gambling problems later in life.    "While we do not know why adolescents who also gamble online had higher problem gambling scores, we also found that adolescents who were also gambling online were more likely than offline-only gamblers to participate in multiple forms of gambling," she says. "This suggests that young people who are also gambling online are individuals who are seeking out a range of gambling experiences, which could put them at greater risk for problem gambling."

This rise in gambling in young people is especially concerning considering the mental health problems often linked to problem gambling.  These include substance abuse, depression, anxiety, suicide, and poorer physical health overall.  While problem gambling is becoming recognized as a public health concern, many jurisdictions are still bringing in legalized gambling as a way of boosting tax revenues.

Though some forms of legalized gambling such as instant win or lottery tickets are only available to adults, other online gambling experiences, including online sports pools, Internet poker, and Internet slot machines seem to be particularly popular for teens.    Many of them are available on Facebook and other popular social media sites, often with  no restrictions concerning  who could play.  Four Canadian provinces, Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba, and Quebec have legalized online gambling and Dr. Eton-Marshall expressed concern at the wide range of gambling options now available for young people. 

 "Continuing to assess how the expanding and evolving gambling landscape is affecting young people is critical to help prevent gambling problems," says Dr. Elton-Marshall.

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