Young People and Gambling

Teenager gambling on smartphone

In recent years, the incidence of underage gambling and its ability to lead to problem gambling behaviours in adulthood has become a major source of concern. It is estimated that between 80 and 90 per cent of adolescents gamble in any given year and that 10 to 15 per cent of those that gamble are at risk of developing gambling problems.

Despite gambling being illegal for people under 18 years old, research has consistently shown that a majority of young people have gambled for money while underage.

Most gambling by young people involves scratchies, lotto or friendly card games. However, around one in five are participating in sports betting, racing and even pokies. The Daily Telegraph revealed that 51 underage individuals were caught trying to enter the Star casino using fake IDs, and the number of underage individuals who have attempted to sneak into the Adelaide Casino has increased from 6,000 to 10,000 over the course of just one year..

While these figures are startling, the key issues of concern for young Australians under 25 are the explosion of sports related gambling promotion, and the proliferation of social media sites and video games that simulate gambling.

Young people are being confronted with an avalanche of messages about gambling with very little attention given to informing them about the risks or providing responsible gambling messages. If your children watched a typical footy match on TV lately they consumed about 50.5 separate episodes of sports betting marketing, from TV and stadium ads, to footy jumpers and even the footy commentary. If they went to the ground they would have seen, on average, 58.5 gambling ads

The saturation of advertising normalises gambling and young people are coming to associate gambling as integral part of the sport. Rather than talking about their favourite team, young people are now talking about the odds of that team winning. Gambling has become embedded within peer groups with many young people seeking treatment stating that if they didn't gamble they felt isolated from their friends.

Gambling advertisements are also often integrated into mobile applications that young fans use to follow the games on tablets and phones. This inevitably translates into more under-age gambling, as young people can now anonymously gamble online. Online checks are insufficient -- as an ABC1's 4Corners investigation recently revealed people as young as 12 have been caught placing bets using parent's credit cards.

With the boom in free-to-play gambling apps and games on social media and the internet, simulated gambling is fast becoming more accessible and more attractive to young people in Australia. The primary concern about simulated gambling is that it grooms young people for actual gambling by normalising the activity and fostering false expectations by paying out at a faster rate than genuine gambling sites.

Gambling addiction can be devastating to the person who gambles and their family. While most people under 18 don't have access to enough money to cause serious financial hardship through gambling, bad habits developed as teenagers can spill into young adult life. Impacts include:

  • increased delinquency and crime, including theft to cover debts
  • disruption of familial relationships
  • decreased academic performance, with consequences on tertiary study and developing careers
  • poor mental health: higher rates of depression, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts

Young people gamble for the same reasons as adults, even if they are not of legal age to do so. The rate of problem gambling in adolescents is over three times as high as it is for adults. However, very few young people present for treatment or ask for help or advice around gambling.

Research shows that parents, educators and others who work with young people have the power to make a difference – if only they ask.

The next time you see a news report about a lottery ticket winner or see a gambling ad, take the opportunity to talk to your youths about the reality and risks of gambling; deliver responsible gambling messages, including knowledge of how gambling works and how to avoid the harm it causes; and empower young people to seek help if they need it.


ACNeilson 2007, Prevalence of Gambling and Problem Gambling in NSW, Report to the New South Wales Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, Sydney.

Four Corners 2013, The Big Gamble,

Gray, K., Browne, M., Prabhu, V. 2007, Systematic review and meta-analysis of studies on early intervention and prevention for problem gambling, Department of Rural and Indigenous Health, Melbourne.