What is Gambling?
Gambling is when you risk something of value and you don’t know if you will win or lose. Not knowing if you will win or lose can also be defined as a game of chance that even with practise you cannot get better at.
Changing Landscape of Youth Gambling
While gambling used to be considered an adult activity, today more youth may gamble than adults.¹ As many as 50 to 70% of youth younger than 18 gamble for money at least once a year.²
In Ontario, Canada, the legal age to gamble is 19 and the legal age to buy lottery tickets is 18 ¹⁸. However, 1 in 3 students in Ontario (in Grades 7 to 12) gambled on at least one activity over the course of a year, and 1 in 6 students played free online gambling games more frequently.
Online gambling is especially popular among young people because of easy accessibility anywhere, anytime, privacy, extensive variety of games, possibility to play multiple games at once and persistent online marketing. The use of special effects, like graphics and music, and game-like elements, like scoring points and competition with others along with the opportunity to win rewards and take advantage of incentives, make online gambling feel exciting.
Some of the ways youth can experience gambling are through video games, freemium-model games, loot box unlocking, betting on Esports, skin-betting, daily fantasy sports, raffle tickets, arcade and fair games, claw machines and many more! New types of gambling have emerged with modern technologies, along with new types of online gambling like those related to video games and sports.
Young people have more opportunities to gamble than ever before. As a result, more young people are experiencing gambling problems.³
Ways Young People Gamble
Unregulated Online Gambling
Sites that don’t enforce a minimum age limit
Using someone else’s online gambling account
Gambling & Video Games
Gambling-like activities within video games
Dares & Challenges
Placing a bet on a dare/challenge
Family & Friends
Betting on card and other games with friends and family (e.g., poker)
Risking points/gems/coins in video games for a chance to advance or get something
Fantasy & Sports
Fantasy sports leagues/Daily Fantasy Sport
Skins refer to decorative items for video game players
Esports refers to competitive video gaming
Social gaming is when people play games within a social…
A raffle ticket is a ticket sold that has an associated…
Claw Machines operate similarly to other arcade-style…
Playing for keeps
Playing for Keeps can be done when playing…
Loot Box Unlocking
Loot boxes are virtual mystery boxes. The player…
Scratch lottery games
Every scratch lottery ticket may have a different set…
Sports Pools and Betting
Players can bet money or something of value…
Arcade and Fair Games
These are games usually with a very low probability of winning
Youth Problem Gambling
Problem gambling is when someone struggles to control their gambling and experiences problems that lead to harm. Young people are especially at risk of experiencing problems related to gambling.⁹ Youth can experience mental health, physical health, social, educational, relationship, and financial problems from gambling.¹⁰, ¹¹ Youth are two to four times more likely to develop problem gambling than adults,¹² and young people may experience severe problem gambling more than adults. Many adults who experience problem gambling started gambling when they were children.¹¹
In general, between 0.2 to 12.3% of young people experience problem gambling around the world.¹³ In Ontario, about 4% of high school students reported symptoms of low to moderate gambling problems, and about 2% reported symptoms of severe gambling problems.¹⁴ Psychiatrists consider the most severe form of problem gambling to be ‘disordered gambling’, which is an addiction that requires treatment.¹⁵
What are some signs of Problem Gambling/Gaming?
Problem gambling is when gambling/gaming starts to impact a person’s life in a negative way. The signs differ from person to person. Some common warning signs are:
Youth Problem Gambling Statistics
In a study conducted in 2007, it was found that among Canadian youth ages 15 to 24 years, 61.35% gambled in the past 12 months and the national prevalence of moderate-risk or problem gambling was 2.22% (3.30% in male respondents and 1.10% in female respondents).¹⁶
Across Canada, regional prevalence estimates of youth moderate-risk or problem gambling were 1.37% in British Columbia, 2.17% in the prairie provinces, 2.75% in Ontario, 2.12% in Quebec, and 1.71% in the Atlantic provinces.¹⁷
Correlation between Gaming and Gambling
Gaming and gambling are very similar activities and the gambling industry even uses these terms interchangeably. The main difference between the terms is that for gaming, the outcome is achieved by skill, not chance; whereas for gambling, the opposite is true.
Many gaming activities now include gambling features and vice versa. These activities are referred to as gambling-like gaming and gaming-like gambling.
With the increase of technology and more youth having access to smart devices, there is more accessibility to gambling like games and gambling simulations. Studies indicate that 60% of Canadians and Americans played mobile games in 2020.¹⁶ If we look at an age breakdown of mobile game data, children (ages 2–12) make up 18% of mobile gamers (38.2 million) and tend to play games within the kid-friendly genre, which includes puzzles, arcade, action builder, and simulation.¹⁶ Our Jumping Jamboree game would be considered kid-friendly on the app store. Teens and young adults (ages 13–24) make up 24% of gamers (50.7 million), with 95% using a smartphone and enjoying a mixture of genres and prefer mobile games due to convenience and flexibility.¹⁶
This data indicates the prevalence of gaming among youth, and further research indicates the links between gaming and problem gaming. A significant relationship has been found between the frequency with which an individual engages in loot box spending and the prevalence of problem gambling.¹⁸ This research shows us a strong correlation between gaming and problem gambling, and illustrates the need for us to be talking about this with youth.
There can be a progression from video games to online gaming for money and gambling in social casino games. Social casino games look and work like games in a casino, but instead of playing for money the player wins points or in-game currency like coins or jewels. Sometimes players spend more to unlock special features or collect more points. Social gambling can impact the transition to gambling with real money, as it can create misinformation about how gambling really works. In social casino games, often there are better odds and inflated payouts for players. This means that players can develop a dissociation between action and consequence, and be more interested in playing similar-style games but with the possibility of winning a monetary prize.
How youth can protect themselves from harmful gambling
1. Dowling NA, Merkouris SS, Greenwood CJ, Oldenhof E, Toumbourou JW, Youssef GJ. Early risk and protective factors for problem gambling: A systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Clinical Psychology Review. 2017;51:109-24. Plain language summary available at https://www.greo.ca/Modules/EvidenceCentre/Details/a-review-of-risk-and-protective-factors-for-problem-gambling-in-youth
2. Delfabbro P, King DL, Derevensky JL. Adolescent gambling and problem gambling: Prevalence, current issues, and concerns. Current Addiction Reports. 2016;3(3):268-74. Plain language summary available at https://www.greo.ca/Modules/EvidenceCentre/Details/a-review-of-current-concerns-over-gambling-and-problem-gambling-in-youth
3. Hilbrecht ME. Prevention and education evidence review: Gambling-related harm. Report prepared in support of the National Strategy to Reduce Harms in Great Britain. Guelph, Canada; 2021, Sept. 16. Available from: https://www.greo.ca/Modules/EvidenceCentre/files/Greo_PE-Review_Sept16-2021_FullReport.pdf
4. Marchica L, Zhao YX, Derevensky J, Ivoska W. Understanding the relationship between sports-relevant gambling and being at-risk for a gambling problem among American adolescents. Journal of Gambling Studies. 2017;33(2):437-48. Plain language summary available at https://www.greo.ca/Modules/EvidenceCentre/Details/do-sports-related-gambling-activities-put-youth-at-risk-for-a-gambling-problem
6. Gainsbury SM, Russell AMT, King DL, Delfabbro P, Hing N. Migration from social casino games to gambling: Motivations and characteristics of gamers who gamble. Computers in Human Behavior. 2016;63:59-67.
9. 14. Elgar FJ, Canale N, Wohl MJA, Lenzi M, Vieno A. Relative deprivation and disordered gambling in youths. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2018. Plain language summary available at https://www.greo.ca/Modules/EvidenceCentre/Details/social-support-from-peers-protects-against-the-effects-of-relative-deprivation-on
10. Derevensky JL. Teen gambling: Understanding a growing epidemic. Lanham, MD.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; 2012.
11. Blake M, Pye J, Mollidor C, Morris L, Wardle H, Reith G. Measuring gambling-related harms among children and young people: A framework for action. London, UK: Ipsos MORI; 2019. Available from: https://about.gambleaware.org/media/1937/measuring-grh-in-cyp-a-framework-for-action.pdf
13. Calado F, Alexandre J, Griffiths MD. Prevalence of adolescent problem gambling: A systematic review of recent research. Journal of Gambling Studies. 2017;33(2):397-424. Plain language summary available at
18. Zendle, David. (2020). Beyond loot boxes: A variety of gambling-like practices in video games are linked to both problem gambling and disordered gaming. PeerJ. 8. e9466. 10.7717/peerj.9466.