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Young people and gambling

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Gambling is risking money or something else of value on an activity that has an uncertain outcome. That can mean a lot of things. Playing cards or videogames for money, buying raffle tickets, betting on who's going to win a pool match, or betting your in-game video purchases or digital currency on an NHL hockey game—it's all gambling.

Most young people don't think of themselves as gamblers. After all, they don't gamble at casinos, bars, or racetracks the way many adults do. Yet a lot of young people have been gambling for years. Even though the average legal age for gambling is 19 in many provinces in Canada, young people can easily access unregulated and regulated gambling websites.

Most young people are more exposed to the opportunity to practice gambling regardless of the restrictions. The most common ways to gamble in this age group is in:

  • sports betting
  • crypto-currency trading
  • buying virtual coins to advance to a higher level in a game
  • using apps to win real-life rewards, such as meals, cash, items, and show tickets

A survey done in 2016 in 9 Canadian provinces showed that about 8 out of 10 young people have gambled at least once in their lifetime. This suggests that gambling is highly popular among young people. This study also showed that those who gambled online scored "high" in problem gambling severity compared to those who only gambled offline.


A 2005 survey of Grade 7 to 12 students in Alberta about gambling, showed the following:

  • Gambling in young people has gone up slightly in the past few years—especially playing cards for money.
  • Less than 1 out of 20 students bet or gamble online.
  • The top 3 types of gambling among students are playing scratch tickets, playing cards for money, and betting on sporting events.
  • Those who identify as male are more likely to have gambled in the past 12 months than those who identify as female—just over half versus about 4 out of 10.
  • High school students are more likely to gamble than junior high students.
  • Bingo is more popular with junior high students. Most other types of gambling are more popular with high school students.

Problem gambling

The 2005 survey of students in Alberta also showed that:

  • About 2 in 100 students show signs of problem gambling.
  • Just over another 3 in 100 students show signs of being at risk for problem gambling.
  • The amount of time students gamble went up as they got older. Almost 1 in 25 of Grade 7 students gambled in the last 12 months compared to just over half of Grade 12 students.
  • High school students are more likely than junior high students to be at risk of developing gambling problems.
  • Those who identify as male are more likely to be at risk for gambling problems or to show behaviour that may suggest a gambling problem.

What may contribute to problem gambling

Other studies have reported that some groups of young people are at higher risk for developing more serious gambling problems. For example, young people with learning disorders, indigenous young people living in urban areas, and young people who experience substance disorder, depression, and anxiety.

Young people with gambling problems may also have trouble in other areas of their lives where they need support. These could include health concerns, financial p​roblems, feeling lonely, mood swings, school issues, using digital technology too much, or more conflicts with their parents or guardians.

Where to get help

If you're worried that you or someone you know may be having problems with gambling, there is help available. Addiction treatment services are voluntary and confidential. For more information and to find an addiction services office near you, call the Addiction Help Line. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

To get more information about gambling and young people, visit Growing up online, and GameSense Alberta | Responsible Gambling.

If you're trying to cut down on how much you gamble, you can use Mobile Monitor Your Gambling & Urges (MYGU). It's anonymous (private), free, and easy to use.

Current as of: June 15, 2022

Author: Addiction and Mental Health, Alberta Health Services