Youth Gambling

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 practice 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

Click here to learn why it’s important to talk about gambling and youth.

Ways Young People Gamble


Unregulated Online Gambling

Sites that don't enforce a minimum age limit


Unauthorized Account

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 Currency

Risking points/gems/coins in video games for a chance to advance or get something


Fantasy & Sports

Fantasy sports leagues/Daily Fantasy Sport


Skin Betting

Skins refer to decorative items for video game players


Esports Better

Esports refers to competitive video gaming


Social Gaming

Social gaming is when people play games within a social...


Raffle Ticket

A raffle ticket is a ticket sold that has an associated…


Claw Machines

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, Ontario teens are 5 times more likely to develop a severe gambling problem compared to adults,1220 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 6% of secondary school students reported symptoms of low to moderate gambling problems, and Ontario teens aged 14-18 years old show a severe problem gambling rate of 1.7%.1220 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:

  • Unable to stop
  • Unable to pay attention at school/work
  • Feeling depressed or anxious when unable to play
  • Playing to escape problems
  • Experiencing difficulty sleeping due to gaming/gambling
  • Borrowing or stealing money to continue to play/gamble
  • Spending money before paydays
  • Trying to win back losses

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

  • Engage in other activities beyond school (sports, music, art, reading, writing, etc.)
  • Use healthy coping strategies that focus on problem-solving
  • Learn about the risks and behaviours most connected with problem gambling. (playing video games, gambling for excitement, etc.)
  • Focus on building strong offline relationships
  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
  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
  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:
  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
  5. Kim HS, Wohl MJA, Gupta R, Derevensky JL. Why do young adults gamble online? A qualitative study of motivations to transition from social casino games to online gambling. Asian J Gambl Issues Public Health. 2017;7(1):6. Plain language summary available at
  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
  7. Kim HS, Wohl MJA, Gupta R, Derevensky J. From the mouths of social media users: A focus group study exploring the social casino gaming-online gambling link. Journal of Behavioral Addictions. 2016;5(1):115-21
  8. Newall PWS, Russell AMT, Sharman S, Walasek L. Associations between recalled use of legal UK youth gambling products and adult disordered gambling. Journal of Behavioral Addictions 2020. Plain language summary available at
  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
  1. Derevensky JL. Teen gambling: Understanding a growing epidemic. Lanham, MD.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; 2012. (Book).
  2. 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:
  3. The Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDHUS).Centre for Addiction and Mental Health; 2021
  4. 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.
  5. The Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS). [Internet]. Toronto: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health; 2019 [updated 2019; cited 2019 Mar 7]. Available from:—osduhs
  6. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5®). 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
  7. NPD. (2020). Deconstructing Mobile and Tablet Gaming.
  8. Huang JH, Boyer R. Epidemiology of youth gambling problems in Canada: a national prevalence study. Can J Psychiatry. 2007 Oct;52(10):657-65. doi: 10.1177/070674370705201006. PMID: 18020113.
  9. 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.
  10. McMahon, Mary (2022). What is a Claw Machine? About Mechanics.
  11. “Predictors of gambling and problem gambling in Canada,” Williams et al. (2021),” Williams et al. (2021)