Youth gamblingWhile the legal gambling age varies across (and in some cases within) countries, gambling is generally prohibited to minors. There exist notable exceptions – for example, lottery tickets may be purchased at age 16 in the United Kingdom, and some types of fruit machine (machines in “category D”) in the United Kingdom are available without age restriction (cf. Gambling Act 20058). Although youth gambling is legally restricted, it is not uncommon for youths and adolescents to take part in gambling activities, and a small but notable proportion of them may be affected by problem gambling. A comprehensive overview of prevalence studies on youth gambling is provided by Volberg et al. (2011). In the United States, a nationwide survey by the National Institute of Health between 2005 and 2007 determined that 68% of respondents aged between 14 and 21 had gambled in the past year. At 1.3%, rates of pathological gambling (as measured with SOGS-RA, i.e. SOGS revised for adolescents) were found to be lower than in a sample from the adult population assessed by the same research team. A US-wide survey of youths aged 16–17 in 1998 (Gerstein et al., 1999) showed that youths in this age group were less likely to participate in gambling than adults (one-third reported to have never gambled) but that rates of pathological and problem gambling were found to be similar. Similarly, a Canada-wide health survey discussed in the review by Volberg et al. reported that 61% of respondents aged 15–24 had gambled in the past year and found that 2.2% scored as being at moderate risk for and/or meeting the criteria for problem gambling. As detailed by Volberg et al., several studies conducted within Canadian provinces (using different prevalence screens) in the period 1998–2009 found rates of problem gambling in the range of 2.2–5.0%. A more recent study in Quebec (Derevensky et al., 2010) that focused on the effects of gambling advertising on youths aged 12–19 found that a relatively high rate of 13% were probable pathological gamblers (score of four out of nine categories in DSM-IV-MR-J). Volberg et al. note that among the European countries, most research on youth gambling has been conducted in the United Kingdom, where fruit machines are widely available. In a review, Griffiths (2009) points out that two-thirds of adolescents report to have ever played fruit machines (one third in the last month), and that 20% of adolescents play them at least weekly. Estimates for probable pathological gamblers among adolescents in the United Kingdom have decreased from 5.4% in 1999 to 2% in 2009. In Australia, recent studies reviewed by Volberg et al. (2011) indicate a past-year participation rate of 64%, and prevalence rates for pathological gambling clustered around 3.5%.
There is a strong trend for boys to be more likely to participate in gambling than girls and also to be significantly more likely to meet criteria for pathological gambling (Volberg et al., 2011). While this pattern mirrors that of the gambling prevalence rates among adults, it is generally difficult to compare the prevalence rates of pathological gambling among adults and adolescents. Screens targeted at adults are found inadequate to measure gambling-related problems of adolescents, and prevalence studies on youth gambling have used a very diverse array of screening instruments, including the GA Questionnaire, SOGS, SOGS-RA (an adaption of SOGS for adolescents), CPGI, PGSI, DSM-IV-J (an adaption of DSM-IV targeted at youths) and other formats, making it difficult to compare results (Volberg et al., 2011). This difficulty is further compounded by the targeting of different age groups to be representative of “youths” and “adolescents” (thus sometimes overlapping with age groups that could well be considered adults) and the use of different survey formats (e.g. telephone surveys vs questionnaires administered to school classes).
Youth gambling is especially worrying since the young mind is particularly susceptible to risk-seeking, excitement and habit-forming experiences. Indeed, as noted by Monaghan et al. (2008), research provides evidence that problem gamblers typically acquired their maladaptive patterns when they were teenagers. A first-hand account of such a gambling career is provided in Chapter 12 of this book.