A new Canadian study finds that nearly ten percent of teens say they have recently gambled online, a significant uptick from prior levels of online gambling among youth.
Researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and the University of Waterloo found the increased activity among teens in three Canadian provinces.
Of all adolescents surveyed, 42 percent reported that they had gambled money or something of value in offline (land-based) gambling or online gambling.
Popular gambling activities included: a dare or challenge (22 percent), instant-win or scratch tickets (14 percent), games of skill, such as pool or darts (12 percent), offline sports pools (nine percent), and cards, such as poker and black jack (nine percent).
“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 Dr. Tara Elton-Marshall, first author of the study.
“The high proportion of teens who are gambling in any form is concerning because there is research to suggest that the earlier people start to gamble, the more likely it is to be an issue later on.”
The study appears in the journal BMC Public Health.
The findings come from 10,035 students in grades nine to 12 (aged 13 to 19) who completed the 2012-2013 Youth Gambling Survey in schools in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Researchers discovered most adolescents who participated in many forms of gambling, were not of legal age to gamble. Some exceptions were reported, however, including gambling on lottery tickets and instant-win or scratch tickets.
Online gamblers were adolescents who reported gambling in online sports pools, Internet poker or Internet slot machines.
While the study did not ask where teens were gambling online, venues could include unregulated offshore gambling websites or informal forums set up among friends and peers, says Dr. Elton-Marshall.
The higher rates of online gambling may partly be explained by the fact that adolescents were specifically asked about online sports pools, which may not have been considered a form of gambling by teens responding to previous surveys about online gambling.
Investigators are troubled by the increasing number of teen gamblers and by the changing access to gambling venues.
The study, the first to use a problem gambling scale created specifically for adolescents, showed the changing landscape for both online and offline gambling by adolescents.
Among the teens surveyed, 36 percent had a score indicating a potential gambling problem on a scale measuring problem gambling, versus eight percent among offline-only gamblers.
Investigators calculated problem gambling severity scores based on responses to nine questions, such as how often teens missed activities such as team sports or band due to gambling/betting.
“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,” says Dr. Elton-Marshall.
“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.”
Teens also participated in free simulated forms of gambling online, including free poker websites and gambling games on Facebook.
“The gambling landscape is shifting so rapidly in terms of technology and the proliferation of gambling experiences,” says Dr. Elton-Marshall.
In Canada, four provinces — Ontario, B.C., Manitoba, and Quebec — have legalized online gambling. This study provides a baseline of adolescents’ online gambling behavior before the January 2015 launch of Ontario’s PlayOLG Website, which is strictly regulated to ensure participants are 18 years or older.
“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.