Youth Gambling: What’s the Big Deal?

Did you know gambling can turn into an addiction – just like alcohol, drugs and cigarettes? Gambling is often seen as a gateway drug to other high-risk behaviors and is associated with the use of cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana. Problem gambling affects not just the gambler, but the family and community at large as well. People who experience problems with gambling are at a higher risk for experiencing and acting on thoughts of suicide and suffering from serve psychological disorders, including depression.

Most people who gamble do not become addicted. However, studies have shown that gambling at an early age significantly increases the risks for developing a problem with gambling, both as an adolescent and as an adult. Adolescent problem gamblers, like their adult counterparts, often have mistaken beliefs about gambling. They may think that they have control over chance and believe they have an exaggerated skill, and they may not understand how odds and independent events play a major role in gambling.

What is problem gambling?

Problem gambling is any gambling behavior that is causing trouble in your life or the lives of people close to you (like parents, brothers and sisters, or friends). If your gambling is causing you to miss school or work, have arguments with family or friends, or worry about money you have lost, gambling is a problem for you.

What are the youth gambling rates in North Carolina?

Stacked Deck data for 2019 indicates 52% of youth report having gambled in the past three months, 37% gamble at least once monthly, and 32% gamble for money weekly.

Is gambling a problem for most people?

Most people who choose to gamble do so responsibly, with no problems. But for some, gambling becomes a very important part of their lives and does become a problem. Gambling problems can range from minor to quite serious. Gambling can cause the occasional problem like making it hard to pay the utility bill, the rent, or a credit card bill. Sometimes these problems get bigger and more serious, like causing a lot of debt, creating problems with friends and family, and even leading to doing things that are illegal.

Know the Facts

  • By 12th grade, almost two-thrids of students have tried alcohol.
  • In 2016 alone, approximately 2 million youth ages 12 to 17 were users of illicit drugs.
  • Almost 1 in 4 young adults ages 18 to 25 said they were currently using illicit drugs.
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth from ages 10 and 24.
  • Substance use as an adolescent or young adult can have long-term effects on a youth’s developing brain.
  • According to the American Psychiatric Association, 10% to 15% of young people may have significant gambling problems, compared to fewer than 4% of adults.
  • Studies have shown that about 8% of adolescents, 12 to 17 years old, can be considered problem gamblers.
  • On average, problem gamblers say they began gambling at about 10 years of age.

Common Types of Gambling

  • Casino-style cards games
  • Other card games
  • Dice games
  • Electronic games (online poker, slots or keno)
  • Betting on sporting events (football, baseball, etc.)
  • Lottery tickets or “scratchers”
  • Raffle tickets
  • Bingo
  • Games of personal skill (basketball, video games, pool, bowling, skee-ball, etc.)
  • Other cultural games

Risk Factors

  • History of gambling in the family
  • Family history of alcoholism or other addiction
  • Exposure to gambling at young age
  • Family that overemphasizes money or competition
  • Having a “big win”
  • Low self-esteem
  • ADD or Hyperactivity/ADHD
  • Other behavioral issues such as conduct disorders
  • Problems at home
  • Loneliness, depression or boredom
  • Poor coping mechanism

Reasons Youths May Gamble

Like adults, youths gamble for entertainment, socialization and competition but other reasons include:

  • As an escape from problems
  • To cope with big feelings like loneliness, depression or boredom
  • Outside influences like peer pressure or a need to impress their friends
  • They see it on TV and think it’s a good way to make money
  • Because it gets them attention and may temporarily boost their confidence
  • They like the feeling of winning
  • Things to look for if you are concerned about your teen gambling >

    • Does your teen often talk about gambling, or gambling products, or has begun using specialized gambling lingo like “bookies,” “chips,” and “point spread”?
    • Do you find your teen is interested in gambling-related conversations and TV shows?
    • Have you noticed changes in your teen’s behavior or attitude (e.g. mood swings)?
    • Has your teen been experiencing difficulties in school (e.g. loss of interest, lower grades, skipping school)
    • Have they had unexplained absences from school?
    • Do you suspect your teen has been lying to you about his or her activities?
    • Has your teen been asking for more money for lunch and transportation or other personal expenses?
    • Is your teen displaying large amounts of money or other material possessions which cannot be accounted for by his or her regular income?
    • Have you noticed money or valuable objects missing from your house?
    • Is your teen experiencing problems with other family members, or with their friends?
    • Is your teen familiar with Internet gambling web sites?
  • How can you reduce the risks of problem gambling in your teen or young adult? >

    • Talk to your adolescent about the risks of gambling and problem gambling.
    • Model appropriate responsible behavior related to gambling and monitor your adolescent’s computer and cellphone use.
    • Strengthen important relationships for the adolescent, such as the parent–child relationship, as well as relationships with extended family, friends and other key adults.
    • Get help for mental health and substance use concerns, as well as for problem gambling.

Tips for having conversations with youth about gambling behaviors:

Start Early

  • You don’t have to wait until adolescence to have the conversation.
  • Don’t wait until you think there might be a problem to talk about gambling.


  • Create open lines of communication for conversation about your kids’ everyday lives.
  • Try to use “I” messages such as “I would like,” “I prefer,” “I feel” and “I need” instead of “you” messages such as “You never” or “You always.”
  • Pay attention to your nonverbal communication, including tone of voice, facial expression and body language

Learn more about gambling

  • Share with kids that gambling isn’t risk free.
  • Learn about odds and how to explain them to children
  • Let them know gambling isn’t a way to make easy money. “Professional poker player” is about as likely as a career as an NFL player.
  • Look for natural opportunities to talk about the risks of gambling
  • You can use news report of lottery winners to talk about the reality of actually winning

Monitor your children’s interests and activities

  • Know their friends and what they are doing.
  • Don’t forget about their online and video game activity.

Keep talking

  • Like alcohol and drugs, it isn’t one conversation that does the trick.
  • Bring it up in casual conversation and keep talking.

Live by example

  • Remember that kids are watching what adults are doing.
  • Convey to your kids the role of gambling in your own life.

Myths and Reality of Gambling

Myth: Teenagers can’t develop gambling problems.

Fact: Approximately 10% of high school students have a problem with gambling, and another 10% are considered at risk for developing a problem with gambling.

Myth: Lottery tickets are not a major concern with respect to problem gambling.

Fact: Lottery products are, by law, restricted to adults because it has been recognized that they may be a gateway to more problematic forms of gambling.

Myth: Teens experiencing gambling problems most often come from underprivileged and unsupervised families.

Fact: Problem gamblers come from all different backgrounds, cultures, and families, but research has indicated that a lack of parental supervision increases the risk for youth problem gambling.

Myth: Playing card games without money with your children might cause later gambling problems.

Fact: Playing card games with children can teach them that this activity is fun without wagering money. However, it is important to discourage playing for money until they have the maturity and cognitive capacity to understand how to set and maintain both time and money limits.

Myth: Most gamblers are introduced to gambling by their friends.

Fact: Most gamblers are introduced to gambling by a parent or an adult close to them, often when the gambler is as young as 10 or 11 years of age.

Myth: Kids playing poker in the home are not at risk of developing gambling problems.

Fact: For the vast majority of teens, playing poker will not lead to problem gambling. But for a select few, this activity could very well trigger a gambling problem. Monitor your child’s behavior and discourage them from playing for money.

Learn more >

Developing Brain

Teen years are an amazing time for many reasons. While it is a time for developing interests and taking healthy risks, it’s also a time for the brain to develop. Did you know that your brain health can affect the health of your entire body? The overall health and well-being of an individual is impacted by positive childhood experiences that help the brain develop in a healthy way. That means that it is important for children and teenagers to experience healthy relationships with adults and peers, to feel safe in their schools, neighborhoods and communities and build resilience by developing healthy coping and decision-making skills. All these experiences help the brain develop in a healthy way, which will help the immune system and the nervous system develop in healthy ways too.

Research tells us the mental and physical health will be better across the lifespan when children and teenagers are exposed to healthy environments. Risk-taking is important to understand for this age group, because teens and young adults are far more eager to accept risk than adults are, which can result in youths engaging in high-risk behaviors, such as gambling, nicotine use, alcohol use and illegal drug use. Research indicates youths who are gambling by the age of 12 are four times more likely to become problem gamblers. Adolescence is a time of increased vulnerability when it comes to addictions.

Adults can help teens and young adults learn how to apply reasonable caution to those decisions, because learning to take healthy risks and make good decisions is an important skill to develop early in life.

Gambling Expansion and Cultural Acceptance

The United States is experiencing the largest expansion of legalized gambling in its history. Operators are providing more forms of online gambling and converging with the gaming industry, making gambling more accessible than ever before. This is known as “gambling expansion.” Because of this expansion, parents and friends of young gamblers often have little to no awareness that gambling can become an addiction, making the risk of addiction without treatment increase as well.