Youth Problem Gambling: Safe Bet?

gambling-and-youth-bannerIf they’re not doing drugs or out driving drunk, what’s the big deal with a little poker or sports bet?

It’s true that for most people, gambling is innocent fun; most Oregonians gamble once in a while and don’t experience many negative consequences.  However, a growing number of teens are gambling, and that’s a concern for many.

Prevention experts know, like with alcohol and drugs, that the earlier on in life a person begins to gamble, the more likely that individual is to develop a problem later in life.

Thousands of teens in Oregon already show signs of problems with gambling.


Parents, educators, and other adults should consider the potential pitfalls of gambling among our youth.

Consider that young people don’t always yet have the best coping or decision-making skills. Young people can easily hide a gambling problem.  And for many, the problem develops over several years.  Many problem gamblers say they started out gambling at an early age–approximately 10 years old (Gupta & Derevensky, 2001; Gupta & Derevensky, 1998a). With no needle marks, drowsy walking, bloodshot eyes, or other tell-tale signs, a young person who has a gambling problem can easily hide it.

  • Adolescent brains offer a perfect environment for gambling with their preference for high activity low effort/high stimulation. Add to that the fact that parents and schools often aren’t talking to kids about the risks, and you can see why there is concern. Too often we hear “Kids gambling too much? No way…if they were we’d know it;” yet data from the Oregon Healthy Teens survey and other research tell a very different story:
    • Most Oregon adolescents (63 percent) have gambled; their preferred games include free Internet gambling-type games, cards (poker), sports bets, and games of personal skill (Volberg, 2008).
    • One youth per classroom already has a (hidden) gambling problem (Volberg, 2008)

Teens who gamble have higher rates of:

  • Alcohol & binge drinking (Student Wellness Survey, 2014)
  • Drug use, including marijuana (Student Wellness Survey, 2014)
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts (Student Wellness Survey, 2014)
  • School problems (e.g., lower grades, truancy, behavior issues; Student Wellness Survey, 2014)
  • Depression (Student Wellness Survey, 2014)
  • Thoughts about suicide  (Student Wellness Survey, 2014)
  • Family problems (e.g., withdrawal, behavior issues)
  • Peer relationship problems
  • Legal and money troubles
  • Dissociative, “escape” behaviors


Sources: 2014 Oregon Student Wellness Survey Data, Oregon Healthy Teens, Gupta &Derevensky; 1998a; Gupta & Derevensky, 1998b; Vitaro, Ferland, Jacques &Ladouceur, 1998; Wallisch & Liu, 1996; Winters & Anderson, 2000; Wynne, Smith, & Jacobs, 1996.

Next: What kids are gambling on

Related: Why is problem gambling prevention important?