Youth Gambling


The classic definition of gambling is risking money or anything of value on the outcome of something involving chance with the hope of getting something greater in value. Wagering money with friends over a sporting event constitutes gambling. Likewise, playing video games that include the purchase of a loot box without knowing what you’re going to receive when you open it — such as a prized skin or power embellishment — is also gambling. Any time you don’t know what you’re purchasing, that’s a form of gambling.  

Gambling is not just going to the casino or trying to win money. “Gambling” (or “betting”) is any kind of wager or bet where someone can lose something of value. It can be cash, credit, items (iPods, clothes, shoes, etc.), favors (chores, doing homework, etc.), dares or anything with value to the person risking it.


Youth Gambling

Playing To Win

Playing To Win

The use of gambling funds that contribute to youth sports in Minnesota. An article by the Star Tribune. READ MORE


Some of the most common types of gambling include:

  • casino-style cards game (Texas Hold’em, Blackjack/21, etc.),
  • other card games (Gin Rummy, Spades, Hearts, etc.),
  • betting on fantasy sports,
  • dice games (Craps, etc.),
  • electronic games (online poker, slots or other social casino games),
  • betting on sporting events (football, baseball, etc.),
  • fantasy sports,
  • lottery tickets or scratch cards,
  • raffle tickets,
  • bingo,
  • games of personal skill (basketball, video games, pool, bowling, skeet ball, etc.),
  • mahjong, Native American stick games and other cultural games,
  • esports, and
  • loot boxes.
  • entertainment,
  • social activity with friends or family,
  • competition,
  • boredom, escaping problems, avoiding stresses, and
  • trying to win money.

The following are common risk factors for teens and young adults:

  • History of gambling in the family — children of parents who gamble are nearly twice as likely to be weekly or daily gamblers.
  • Family history of alcoholism or mental illness.
  • Having been abused or traumatized.
  • Exposure to gambling at young age.
  • Family that overemphasizes money or competition.
  • Having “big win”.
  • Having easy access to a preferred form of gambling.
  • Having few interests or hobbies besides gambling.
  • Holding mistaken beliefs about the odds of winning.
  • Tying self-esteem to gambling wins or losses.
  • Using gambling as a means to escape problems.
  • Thinking there is a system or a special skill to consistently “beat the house”.
  • Frequently experiencing boredom, depression, anxiety or feeling directionless in life.
  • Problems at home.
  • Peer pressure.
  • Escape from reality.
  • Coping mechanism.
  • Needing to gain attention from peers.
  • To win money (however, for adolescents with gambling problems, money is the vehicle, not the main reason, for gambling).
  • Excessive use of internet.
  • Obsession with point spreads.
  • Unusual interest in obscure games.
  • Association with other sports bettors.
  • Shifting allegiances for/against same team on different days.
  • Frequently asking friends or family for loans.
  • Defensive when questioned about gambling behavior and lying about the extent of habits.
  • Debts, unpaid bills, financial troubles.
  • After losing, eager to bet again to get even or ahead.
  • Preoccupied with gambling or getting money to gamble.
  • Missing training sessions and other important events because of gambling.
  • Restless or irritable when not gambling.
  • “Chasing” losses with more gambling — trying to salvage losses by gambling more.
  • Increasing wager amounts when gambling to achieve the desired excitement.
  • Unsuccessful attempts to control, cut back or stop gambling.
  • Arguments with friends, coaches, significant others and family about gambling activity.
  • Neglecting responsibilities to engage in gambling activities.
Many teens and young adults participate in betting on fantasy and traditional sporting events, although it’s not a legal activity. Research has shown that young men are particularly vulnerable to problem gambling when betting on sports. This is particularly concerning given the push to legalize sports betting and the explosion in ways to wager on sports, including prop bets (wagers made in real time on in-game action, such as betting on a player to make a three-point shot or whether a first down will be made).



Studies show that an adult is more likely to develop a gambling problem if they gamble as a child. Therefore, it’s important to be watchful for signs that your child is gambling. The following questions can help you determine whether your child may be at risk for gambling addiction. Are you concerned about the amount of time your child spends on the computer, on mobile devices, watching sports, playing cards, etc., or how often these activities distract from family activities and sleep?

  • Are you uncomfortable with your child’s friends or their activities together?
  • Are you aware of bets your child is making with friends or classmates?
  • Has your child lost interest in activities he or she once enjoyed?
  • Have your child’s grades slipped or does your child miss school or classes?
  • Does your child work but never seem to have money?
  • Does your child have more money or unexplained money, or does your child spend money beyond his/her apparent means?
  • Have you experienced money or items missing from your home? Do you suspect your child might be stealing?
  • Has your child asked to borrow large amounts of money?
  • Do you find yourself rescuing your child from financial crises resulting from gambling?
  • Does your child have an intense reaction during sporting events when one team is either losing or winning?
  • Does your child promise to never gamble again—and then gamble?
  • Have you noticed changes in your child’s personality, including mood swings?
  • Has your child become secretive?
  • Does your child lie about money or about gambling activities?
    (Source: Gam-Anon International Service Office, Inc.)

If you answer affirmatively to several of these questions, you should have a conversation with your child.

Some Things You Should Know About Youth Gambling

If your children are gambling — but not using drugs, smoking or drinking — you may think there’s no reason to be concerned. But given that gambling can become an addiction — and is statistically more likely the younger a person first gambles — you should be.

Gambling is not a safe alternative to alcohol, drugs or cigarettes. While most people can gamble safely, for some it can become an addiction that’s devastating to both the gambler and their family. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association:

  • Ten to fifteen percent of young people have significant gambling problems, compared to less than 4% of adults. Today, more youth than ever before are developing gambling problems.
  • Eight percent of adolescents 12 to 17 years old are considered problem gamblers. Many problem gamblers say they began gambling at about 10 years of age, on average.
  • Youth are at four times the risk of adults for developing gambling disorder.
  • Six percent of teens who have tried gambling develop the most severe form of gambling disorder (addiction) compared to about 1.5 percent of adults.
  • Youth gambling has been shown to be linked to other risk-taking and addictive behaviors, such as smoking, drinking and drug use.
  • Adolescent gamblers have a higher rate of depression, suicide ideation and attempts.
  • Males are more likely to gamble and to do so more frequently. Males have higher gross wagers and have higher gross winnings.
  • A gambling problem can affect many parts of someone’s life, such as school, work, friendships, family relationships and hobbies.
  • With the right information and help, young people and parents can overcome gambling problems.
  • Children and adolescents tend to model their behavior based on behaviors of others, whether parents, friends or role models.
    Source: Partners in Prevention, International Centre for Youth Gambling and Problems & High-Risk Behaviors.

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Gambling is a serious addiction, and its effects can be every bit as devastating (both to the gambler and their family) as drugs or alcohol. What’s more, gambling is often a “gateway” to other high-risk behaviors. For example, multiple studies have indicated that youth’s gambling in the U.S. often preceded use of cigarettes, hard liquor and marijuana.

What can I do as a parent?

  • Know the warning signs of youth problem gambling.
  • Learn about the risks associated with gambling activities.
  • Explain to your child why the risk of gambling is greater for youth than for adults.
  • Clearly state your position about your children gambling.
  • Discuss rules and expectations and follow through with consequences.
  • Listen to what your child has to say about gambling and encourage discussion.
  • Talk about the difference between responsible gambling and excessive and risky gambling, and about the consequences of problem gambling.
  • Do not engage in gambling with your children, or give them gifts or rewards related to gambling, such as lottery tickets or poker chips.
  • Look for a time to bring up the topic naturally. Bring it up when running across a poker show on TV or finding out that a friend or family member has won or lost money gambling.
  • When you talk to your kids about drugs or alcohol, include problem gambling in “the conversation.”
  • If you choose to gamble, make sure it is from a conscious, informed position. Share the guidelines you observe when you gamble, as well as the responsible guideline tips.
  • Notice any unusual changes in your child’s behavior.
  • Teach them about odds.
  • Be patient.

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The earlier one begins to gamble, the greater the likelihood they will develop a problem later in life. As with adults, most youth can gamble as a form of entertainment and can accept the wins and losses without negative consequences. However, with the introduction of electronic games and online gambling/gaming, more young people are being introduced to gambling elements and exposed to gambling advertising at earlier ages, making it easier for teens to potentially develop a problem.

Here are some facts about youth gambling:

  • Both boys and girls can develop gambling problems
  • The feelings to win are potentially addictive
  • Gambling disorder is similar in many ways to alcohol and drug addiction
  • Most youth do not gamble on a regular basis
  • Many problem gamblers started gambling before 8th grade (early initiation)
  • Youth gamblers are four times more likely to develop issues as adults than those who start as adults
  • Gambling sometimes starts when playing sports for school (competition)
  • Gambling in Minnesota is illegal for anyone under 18

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With a new generation raised on electronic devices and the explosion of apps on smart phones, the gambling industry seized upon this new market, producing tens of thousands of gambling sites. In Minnesota, where online gambling is not legal, players may not be aware that they are being drawn to offshore sites that are unregulated and extremely predatory.

There’s also been a rise of online social casino games that players participate in for free. However, as a player becomes more immersed, real money must be spent for more time or for virtual prizes to keep playing. Since these games are unregulated, there are examples of vulnerable people falling prey to the lures to pay for longer play. More research needs to be conducted about the impact of these games, but currently early data indicates:

  • Some evidence that players are migrating from social casino games to physical world gambling.
  • Simulated gambling may make gambling appear more positive, safe, normal and socially accepted, and may even increase a young adult’s confidence in gambling due to the relative ease of winning.
  • Increased prevalence of gaming and gambling-related problems, spending money on free-to-play games and exhibiting symptoms of problematic gaming. Those who spend money on in-game purchases have reported problem gambling severity, increased impulsivity and reward sensitivity.

Video gaming, separate from social casino games, has evolved into a multibillion-dollar industry. These games offer players opportunities to explore new worlds, compete with others, build skills and develop social online networks. Some video games, however, have embedded gambling elements, often referred to as “loot boxes.” A player pays for a box, not knowing what’s inside. As these games are not regulated, the player has no idea what the odds are of acquiring the “skin” or attribute they hope to receive through the purchase. Not surprisingly, the most cherished attributes are most difficult to obtain. Without the odds being clearly articulated (as they are in regulated casino and lottery games), the player may decide to “chase” the prize. This can lead to problem gambling. Additionally, third party sites are linked to some games in which players can gamble with their “skins” as some are considered highly valuable to impress or enable one to advance in the game.

The concern lies with the rise of embedded gambling elements within games for young children and the greater exposure to normalizing gambling the greater the risk that they will likely gamble in the physical world, may have normalized attitudes towards gambling, and may have an increased risk for gaming- and/or gambling related harms.

Without regulations there is greater opportunity for game designers to create algorithms that are not consumer friendly and could potentially contribute to problem gambling behavior.

It’s important to note here that there are many similarities between gambling and gaming disorders as well as distinct differences. One can have one addiction without the other. Gaming disorder refers only to players who engage with games that do not have gambling elements built in. If you have a child who seems to be exhibiting signs of spending too much time gaming or believes that their online world is more enjoyable than the physical world, you may wish to visit Game Quitters.

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Educators can look for the following signs of a possible gambling problem in students:

  • Unexplained absences from school
  • Dropping grades
  • Asking for/borrowing money from peers
  • Large amounts of money in student’s possession
  • Intense interest in gambling conversations
  • Displaying money or other material possessions (e.g., cars, clothes, jewelry).
  • Behavior changes (e.g., is daydreaming, anxious, moody, less participative and appears tired in class)
  • Using gambling “lingo” in his/her conversation (e.g., bookie, loan shark, point spread, underdog or favorite, exaggerated use of the word “bet”)
  • Spending unusual amount of time reading newspapers, magazines and/or periodicals having to do with sports
  • Selling personal belongings
  • Bragging about winnings
  • Lying, cheating or stealing in school

If you suspect a student is displaying signs of problem gambling, seek assistance. If you suspect the student may not live in a safe environment, utilize resources within your school system to begin a safe conversation with the student.

For additional information about youth gambling, refer to our RESOURCES for more detailed information on the Minnesota Student Survey.

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The expected explosion of sports betting resulting from the May 2018 Supreme Court decision to allow all states to decide if they wish to legalize sports betting provides added risk to student athletes and perhaps to the integrity of the games they play. Athletes are competitive by nature and it is not uncommon for athletes to bet.

If an athlete begins to gamble, it can take as little as one win to get hooked and one loss to want to make that money back, fueling the beginning of an addiction cycle. Whereas a non-athlete might know when to stop gambling, the competitive athlete might adjust in how they gamble, when they gamble, and what they gamble on, with the mind-set that they can create situations that will result in a win.

For the athlete, gambling may be another opportunity to attain status by demonstrating greater skill, knowledge, or courage. Research has shown that athletes are more prone than other students to gain satisfaction from extrinsic rewards such as scholarships, fame, awards, money and careers. Extrinsic rewards are also important to gamblers, who are motivated by the opportunity to win money. Gambling can also offer athletes an alternative source of income.

Injuries can also be a vulnerable time for student athletes to start or increase their gambling. Gambling may help them continue to feel like part of the team.

Coaches, school administrators, peers and parents all need to know that athletes can be vulnerable to increased gambling and gambling disorder even though the NCAA prohibits gambling.

There have been a few studies regarding gambling and student athletes:

  • A 2012 NCAA study found that 57 percent of male student athletes and 39 percent of female student athletes reported gambling in some form during the past year, with student athletes in Division I reporting the lowest incidence of gambling (50 percent for males; 30 percent for females).
  • While the prevalence of gambling disorder is still quite low among student athletes, 1.9 percent of males and 0.2 percent of females exhibit some clinical signs of problem gambling, placing them at extremely high risk for mental health issues.
Consequences Associated with Student Athlete Gambling
  • athletic and academic failure
  • crime
  • relationship problems
  • alcohol and substance abuse
  • debt
  • suicide
Recommendations for College Administrators, Coaches, Parents
  • Provide screening for athletes as part of a routine annual physical by asking the following two questions. If an athlete responds affirmatively to either of the two questions, a conversation about gambling should take place and potentially a referral to the Minnesota helpline: 1-800-333-HOPE (4673)
    • Have you ever felt the need to bet more and more money?
    • Have you ever had to lie to people important to you about how much you gambled?
  • Add rules in the student conduct codes for gambling activities on campus.
  • Develop a comprehensive Code of Conduct for athletes that specifies standards for activities such as gambling.

Provide athletes with awareness education, including detailing available help resources for gambling and other disorders. Recent research suggests that retired athletes may be most susceptible to gambling disorder. When a former athlete no longer has the sporting event to satisfy competitive thirsts, they may turn to gambling in general, and sports gambling specifically, to satisfy these needs.

One way to reduce these risks is to engage coaches, parents and peers early in an athlete’s career in a discussion about the risks in a nonjudgmental way. If a student athlete exhibits multiple signs of problem gambling, help is available, usually at no cost, and confidential. Call 1-800-333-HOPE (4673).

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Do you think that one (or more) of your friends is struggling with gambling addiction? If so, you’ve probably noticed some changes in their behavior and may be exhibiting some of the signs of problem gambling.

Note: these signs can also indicate other problems, like depression – only a professional can diagnose a gambling problem.

Talking to your friend

If you feel comfortable, it can be a good idea to talk to your friend about your concerns. Here are some tips to make the conversation successful:

  • Learn about the signs of a gambling problem.
  • Find somewhere quiet and free from distractions to talk.
  • Avoid accusing or judging your friend; focus instead on how you feel about their gambling (“I’m worried about how much you’ve been gambling lately”).
  • Use specific examples of behavior (“Last week, you spent your whole allowance playing poker”).
  • Be specific about how your friend’s gambling is affecting your friendship (“It seems like we never hang out anymore … you’re always gambling”).
  • Ask your friend how you can be there for them (“What can I do to help you?”).
  • You can offer to call a counseling service with them or accompany them to their first appointment.
  • If your friend doesn’t want help, try not to push the issue. Let them know you are there for them if they want to talk about it in the future.
  • If your friend expresses a desire to hurt themselves or to commit suicide, contact a trusted adult.
  • If they seem open, tell them about the helpline number to receive free, confidential counseling services for gambling. 1-800-333-HOPE (4673)


Living with a loved one who may be exhibiting signs of problem gambling or any addiction is scary and unnerving. If your parent or guardian has a gambling problem, it may have changed your life in several ways, including:

  • a lot of arguing in your house,
  • people in your family who are often stressed, irritable or upset,
  • family financial struggles, and
  • a parent who isn’t home often.

These changes can make your home life more difficult, and you may be feeling all sorts of emotions you cannot control. Some of the things you may be feeling are:

  • loneliness
  • stress
  • worry and concern
  • guilt
  • confusion
  • anger
  • resentfulness
Talking to your parent about their gambling

Remember: There is nothing you can say or do to make your parent stop gambling. You didn’t cause your parent’s gambling addiction, and you also can’t force them to get help.

However, if you feel comfortable and safe, you can express your concern. Talking things out with your parent can help you cope with the emotions you are feeling and may help them to admit that they have a problem.

And if you don’t feel comfortable approaching your parent, that’s OK. Instead, you can try talking to another trusted adult who might be able to approach them on your behalf.

Tips for good communication:

  • Use specific examples of things you’ve noticed (e.g., they are rarely home and often gambling).
  • Tell them that you are worried about them but try not to judge or accuse them.
  • Give them examples of how their gambling is affecting you (e.g., you are feeling lonely or depressed).
 If your parent is getting help

Try to be supportive and encouraging while your parent goes through treatment. Let them know how proud you are of the changes they’re making in their life, and how those changes have affected you for the better.

Recovering from addiction:

  • Recovery is a long and difficult process. No matter how well your parent is doing, setbacks will happen.
  • Many people with gambling problems try several times before they can change their behavior for good.
  • If your parent has a setback, it’s not because of anything you said or did. You are never responsible for anyone else’s actions.
Taking care of yourself

If your parent isn’t ready to get help for their gambling problem, the best thing you can do is take care of your own feelings and safety. They can only be helped when they are ready. This is normal for all people with addictions and has nothing to do with you.

Remember: no matter what, you deserve love, care and respect.
If you feel like you are being neglected or that your safety is at risk because of a parent’s gambling problem, call the helpline at 1-800-333-HOPE (4673)– they’ll help you figure out how to protect your health and safety.