In the past, a person that wanted to gamble required a trip to a brick-and-mortar casino or at least an invitation to play poker in a friends’ basement. However, with Internet gaming available any time via smart phones and computers, gambling is always just a click away.
As a result, gambling activity has increased significantly along with addiction, which can develop in the privacy of one’s home where the individual can gamble all day long.
Gambling used to be limited to adults, with minors not allowed in casinos. But now teens can gamble online with only a valid credit card.
While the symptoms, causes and treatment options for gambling addiction are still being researched, compulsive gamblers share behaviors with drug or alcohol addicts in terms of prioritizing their habit over all other activities and relationships.
A study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center indicates that gambling by teens is widespread, with one-fifth of all college students engaging in online poker games at least once in the previous month.
The study compared gambling rates between 2008 and 2010 to analyze teen trends. In 2008, 4.4 percent of college-age males had used online gambling sites in the past 30 days. In 2010, the number had increased to 16 percent. While the number of students visiting gambling sites increased dramatically, the frequency of use was relatively stable with three percent using gambling sites on a weekly basis.
Dan Romer, Director of the Annenberg Adolescent Communication Institute, explained that the significant increase indicates that the expected deterrent of requiring a credit card is no longer preventing teens from gambling.
The annual study found that approximately 400,000 males age 18-22 gamble on at least a weekly basis, and more than 1.7 million engage in online gambling at least once a month.
The good news is the number of high school teens that gambled online increased between 2008 (2.7 percent) and 2010 (6.2 percent), but the numbers were statistically insignificant. While the authors considered the increase a small jump, it still represents at least 530,000 high school male teenagers gambling online in a given month.
While female high school students continue to gamble at a rate far below that of males, the latest report did indicate a sharp increase in female offline gambling, sports betting in particular.
The increase in gambling among high school students is being partly attributed to increased TV and billboard advertising.
Parents watching for signs of a gambling addiction should look out for the same behaviors they would see in a substance addiction, including being compulsive about their habit, unable to focus on other activities until they get their “fix” and allowing relationships and responsibilities that were previously a priority to deteriorate.
In general, teens have an increased willingness to take risks and a belief that bad things are unlikely to happen to them. This combination may make them more willing to take the initial risks that lead to a gambling addiction.
Parents can prevent an addiction from developing by limiting screen time, monitoring credit card statements for unexplained uses and by building positive family interactions through open conversations and regular family traditions.