The Problem of Adolescent Gambling

Reasonable people, including those with clinical expertise, disagree over the exact number of individuals suffering from gambling disorders and the relevance of “problem” versus “at-risk.” While getting an exact number is important for scientists, policymakers and treatment providers, more important is the acknowledgement that a significant number of individuals are pathological, problem or at-risk gamblers. And it is time for the public and private sector to come together in a meaningful way to address these problems.

The Commission is united in our concern for those currently suffering from problem gambling and our desire to prevent this problem in the future. The Commission also agrees that this should be a public-private partnership and that government at all levels should commit resources for research into the study and treatment of problem gambling.

Adolescent gamblers are more likely than adults to become problem or pathological gamblers. NRC estimates that as many as 1.1 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 are pathological gamblers, which is a much higher percentage than adults. 97 In the NORC study, adolescent problem and pathological gambling was found to be at the same rate as adults, but the at-risk rate was double the adult rate. 98 NRC noted that “adolescent measures of pathological gambling are not always comparable to adult measures and that different thresholds for adolescent gambling problems may exist.”

With a growing number of underage gamblers, the social consequences of this illegal behavior are significant. In NRC’s survey of literature, they found that the percentage of adolescents who report having gambled during their lifetime ranges from 39 to 92 percent, with 39 percent functioning as an outlier, with the next highest percentage as 62. 99 The median was 85 percent. NRC also found that the prevalence of adolescent gambling during the past year ranged from 52 to 89 percent, with a median value of 73 percent. 100

And the impact is felt throughout the nation. In a survey of 12,000 Louisiana adolescents, one-quarter reported playing video poker, 17 percent had gambled on slot machines and one in 10 had bet on horse or dog racing. 101 In Oregon, 19 percent of youths ages 13 to 17 reported having gambled in a casino, with 12 percent having done so in the past year. 102 In Massachusetts, 47 percent of seventh-graders, and three-quarters of high school seniors, reported having played the lottery. 103

96 NORC at 6-10. 97 NRC at 3-9. 98 NORC at 61-4. 99 NRC at 3-9. 100 NRC at 3-9. 101 James Westphal, et. al., “Final Report Statewide Baseline Survey Pathological Gambling and Substance Abuse, Louisiana Adolescents (6 th Through 12 th Grades), School Year 96-97,” Department of Psychiatry, Louisiana State University Medical Center, (April 27, 1998), p. 14. 102 Matthew J. Carlson and Thomas L. Moore, “Adolescent Gambling in Oregon: A Report to the Oregon Gambling Addiction Treatment Foundation,” (December 1, 1998). 103 Howard J. Shaffer, “The Emergence of Youthful Addiction: The Prevalence of Underage Lottery Use and the Impact of Gambling,” Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling (January 13, 1994), p. 12.