Researchers threw a wide net that included bets on dares
A study on teenage gambling released this week by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the University of Waterloo has been making mainstream press headlines in Canada with its claim that teenagers are gambling online at a significantly higher rate than previously reported.
However, the study threw a wide net and includes even teenagers betting on dares between peers.
The study considered the responses of 10,035 students in grades 9 to 12 (aged 13 to 19) who completed the 2012-2013 Youth Gambling Survey in schools in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador.
The research project was supported by the Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (formerly the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre).
The study claims that almost ten percent of the respondents said they had gambled online, and more than 40 percent had gambled in any form over the past three months. The researchers acknowledge that the survey is the first in Canada to find such high levels of online gambling among youth.
Of all adolescents surveyed, 42 percent reported that they had gambled money or something of value in offline (land-based) gambling or online gambling.
Popular gambling activities included: a dare or challenge (22 percent), instant-win or scratch tickets (14 percent), games of skill, such as pool or darts (12 percent), offline sports pools (9 percent), and cards, such as poker and black jack (9 percent).
"A substantially high proportion of young people are gambling in general, and mostly in unregulated forms, like in a dare or a game of pool, which are accessible to youth," a statement by Dr. Tara Elton-Marshall, Scientist in Social and Epidemiological Research at CAMH and first author of the study revealed.
"The high proportion of teens who are gambling in any form is concerning because there is research to suggest that the earlier people start to gamble, the more likely it is to be an issue later on."
Most adolescents participating in many forms of gambling, with the exception of gambling on lottery tickets and instant-win or scratch tickets, were not of legal age to gamble, the CAMH statement notes.
The higher rates of online gambling may partly be related to the fact that adolescents were specifically asked about online sports pools, which may not have been considered a form of gambling by teens responding to previous surveys about online gambling, the statement explains.
The study, the first to use a problem gambling scale created specifically for adolescents, showed potential reasons for concern, particularly related to adolescents who were gambling both online and offline.
Among these adolescents, 36 percent had a score indicating a potential gambling problem, versus 8 percent among offline-only gamblers. Problem gambling severity scores were calculated based on responses to nine questions, such as how often teens missed activities such as team sports or band due to gambling/betting.
"While we do not know why adolescents who also gamble online had higher problem gambling scores, we found that adolescents who were also gambling online were more likely than offline-only gamblers to participate in multiple forms of gambling," says Dr. Elton-Marshall.
"This suggests that young people who are also gambling online are individuals who are seeking out a range of gambling experiences, which could put them at greater risk for problem gambling."
Teens also participated in free simulated forms of gambling online, including free poker websites and gambling games on Facebook, the statement observed.
"Four Canadian provinces — Ontario, B.C., Manitoba and Quebec — have also legalised online gambling. This study provides a baseline of adolescents' online gambling behaviour before the January 2015 launch of Ontario's PlayOLG Website, which is strictly regulated to ensure participants are 18 years or older, says Dr. Elton-Marshall.
The study does not appear to dwell on the underage and problem gambling precautions taken by most reputable online gambling companies.
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