Slots of fun? A brief overview of adolescent gambling

Last night I appeared in BBC Radio 1 documentary on gambling (“Don’t Bet On It: The Story of Young People and Gambling”) that had a specific focus on youth gambling. Having written two books on the topic, it is an area that I am highly passionate about and is an area that I will always want to do further research into. But what do we know empirically about adolescent gambling? There have been many studies examining the patterns of gambling and problem gambling among adolescents across many countries. A number of comprehensive reviews of adolescent gambling have examined the methods and results of all the adolescent prevalence surveys that have been carried out in North America (the United States and Canada), Europe and the Nordic countries, and Australasia (Australia and New Zealand).

In the United States, the prevalence of past year adolescent gambling in the only national study was 67% with a past year problem gambling rate of 1.3%. However, state-by-state across more than 20 studies show there are large variations ranging from 20% to 86% (past year adolescent gambling prevalence rates) and 0.9–5.7% (past year adolescent problem gambling prevalence rates). In Canada, there has been no national study, only provincial surveys. These have shown a past year adolescent gambling prevalence of 24–90% and a past year adolescent problem gambling rate of 2.2–8.1%.

In Europe, there have been relatively few studies of adolescent gambling and the quality is variable in terms of sample size, representativeness, and quality of data. Adolescent gambling prevalence rates have been reported for a number of countries. These include Belgium (42% lifetime prevalence), Estonia (75% lifetime prevalence), Finland (52% past year prevalence), Germany (62% past year prevalence), Great Britain (19–70% past year prevalence), Iceland (57–70% past year prevalence), Norway (74–82% past year prevalence), Romania (82% lifetime prevalence), Slovakia (27.5% lifetime prevalence), and Sweden (76% past year prevalence). Adolescent problem gambling prevalence rates have been reported for a number of countries. These include Estonia (3.4% lifetime prevalence), Finland (2.3% past year prevalence), Germany (3% past year prevalence), Great Britain (2–5.6% past year prevalence), Iceland (1.9–3.0% past year prevalence), Italy (6% past year prevalence), Norway (1.8–3.2% past year prevalence), Romania (7% lifetime prevalence), Spain (0.8%–4.6% past year prevalence), and Sweden (0.9% past year prevalence).

In Australia, there has also been no national study, only territory surveys. These have shown a past year adolescent problem gambling rate of 41–89% and a past year adolescent problem gambling rate of 1.0–4.4%. In New Zealand, the two national surveys have shown a past year adolescent gambling rate of 65–68% and past year adolescent gambling problem gambling prevalence rates of 3.8–13%.

From these reviews, a number of conclusions have been made. First, from a methodological perspective, the reviews show that school-based surveys and telephone surveys were the primary modalities used to collect data in adolescent prevalence surveys. Second, a methodological trend of increasing sample sizes over time was noted. Early adolescent gambling surveys in the late 1980s and early 1990s tended to include samples of only a few hundred whereas most recent surveys are much bigger. For instance, the five national prevalence surveys in Great Britain have typically had sample sizes of approximately 8000 or more. Third, it was noted that the most widely used problem gambling instruments are derived from adult problem gambling screens and may not be suited to assessing gambling-related problems in younger people. However, pending a better-validated problem gambling instrument for adolescents, these instruments are likely to continue to be viewed as the best approximations for the measurement of problem gambling among adolescents.

The reviews have also made a number of other generalizations. Male adolescents are more likely than female adolescents to gamble, and more likely to experience problems, a finding that is well established. However, there is no evidence that problem gambling among females indicates a more serious problem. It also appears that, while adolescents from certain ethnic groups are less likely to gamble than other adolescents (e.g., Native American and African American youth in North America, non-Francophone youth in Quebec, indigenous youth in Australia, and Pacific Island youth in New Zealand), they are more likely to gamble regularly when they do gamble and to experience problems. However, there may be other confounding variables such as socioeconomic status.

There are also other clear demographic patterns. For example, the most popular youth gambling activities tend to be private, peer-related activities such as card games and betting on sports. Older youth are more likely to engage in accessible forms of age-restricted gambling, such as lotteries. The one notable exception is in Great Britain where slot machines are legally available for adolescents to gamble on at seaside arcades and family leisure centers. Unlike most other countries, Great Britain’s adolescent problem gamblers are most likely to be experiencing gambling problems associated with slot machines. Other common demographic characteristics are that youth problem gamblers are more likely to start gambling at a younger age and to have parents who gamble.

Other research has shown that young problem gamblers are also more likely to have begun gambling at an early age, have had a big win early on in their playing career, and to be from a lower social class. In addition to the risk factors based on personal characteristics, the social and physical environment in which young people gamble and the gambling activity also play a part. Research has indicated that the most problematic and addictive gambling activities to be those (such as slot machines) that involve high event frequencies, short interval between stake and payout, near miss opportunities, a combination of very high prizes and/or frequent winning of small prizes, and suspension of judgment.

Like other potentially addictive behaviors, problem gambling in adolescence causes the individual to engage in negative behaviours. In Great Britain, research has indicated these negative behaviours include truanting in order to play the slot machines, stealing to fund slot machine playing, getting into trouble with teachers and/or parents over their machine playing, borrowing or the using of lunch money to play slot machines, poor schoolwork, and in some cases, aggressive behavior. One study demonstrated that around 4% of all juvenile crime in one English city was gambling-related based on over 1850 arrests in a one-year period.

Furthermore, teenage problem gamblers also appear to display bona fide signs of addiction including withdrawal effects, tolerance salience, mood modification, conflict, and relapse. Some young people gamble as a means of coping with everyday stresses and problems (avoidance) and as their gambling becomes more problematic so their problems, such as debt, increase and consequently their need to gamble also increases. This therefore creates a vicious circle whereby gambling behavior is experienced as both a problem and as a strategy for dealing with problems. It has also be noted that adolescent gambling is often part of a lifestyle that includes increased prevalence in many risky behaviors (such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and taking illicit drugs).

Adolescent gambling, and more specifically adolescent problem gambling, is a cause for concern with a small but significant minority of adolescents having a severe gambling problem. Furthermore, the prevalence of problem gambling in adolescents tends to be approximately three to five times higher than that in adults (depending upon the jurisdiction and the opportunities for adolescents to gamble). This suggests that many adolescents stop gambling when they reach adulthood, although there have been no longitudinal studies to date. Retrospective reports in the literature suggest that many adolescent gamblers ‘mature out’ of gambling and that there are some events in the lives’ of older adolescent that may be triggers in spontaneous remission (such as getting a job, getting married, and birth of a child). However, these are anecdotal and further research is needed to help identify protective factors for problem gambling.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

With additional input from: Dr Rachel Volberg (Gemini Research, USA), Dr Rina Gupta (McGill University, Canada), Dr Paul Delfabbro (University of Adelaide, Australia), and Dr Daniel Olason (University of Iceland, Iceland)

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Gambling and Gaming Addictions in Adolescence. Leicester: British Psychological Society/Blackwells.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Adolescent gambling in Great Britain. Education Today: Quarterly Journal of the College of Teachers. 58(1), 7-11.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Adolescent gambling. In B. Bradford Brown & Mitch Prinstein (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence (Volume 3). pp.11-20. San Diego: Academic Press.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2010). Adolescent gambling on the Internet: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 59-75.

Griffiths, M.D., Parke, J. & Derevensky, J. (2011). Online gambling among youth: Cause for concern? In J.L. Derevensky, D.T.L. Shek & J. Merrick (Eds.), Youth Gambling: The Hidden Addiction, pp. 125-143. Berlin: DeGruyter.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.

Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Problem Gaming in Europe: Challenges, Prevention, and Interventions. New York: Springer.

Volberg, R., Gupta, R., Griffiths, M.D., Olason, D. & Delfabbro, P.H. (2010). An international perspective on youth gambling prevalence studies. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 3-38.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on February 20, 2012, in Addiction, Adolescence, Gambling, Gambling addiction, Problem gamblng, Psychology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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