Teenage Gambling

Q: What is legalized gambling?

A: Legalized gambling exists in a variety of forms in Alberta including casinos, racetracks, video lottery terminals (VLTs), bingo, Sports Select and lotteries. These are legal because they are administered by the government or under regulations set by the government.

Q: So what is illegal gambling?

A: Illegal gambling is gambling that happens outside of these regulations. Placing a bet with a bookie (someone who accepts large bets from different people) on the outcome of a professional sporting event is an example.

Q: Is gambling a problem for people?

A: For some people, gambling becomes a very important part of their lives and it does become a problem. These problems can range from minor to quite serious. Gambling can cause the occasional problem like making it hard to pay the utility bill, the rent, or make a payment on a credit card. In some cases, these problems grow and become serious obstacles leading to excessive debt, problems with friends and family, and even illegal activity.

Q: Who are the people most likely to develop gambling problems?

A: It is impossible to predict who will develop gambling problems. These people can be wealthy or poor, young or old, men or women, adults or teenagers – there is just no way of telling in advance. Plus, many people gamble without ever encountering a problem. They buy a lottery or raffle ticket, go to the racetrack or an evening of bingo, and drop an occasional loonie into a VLT. When the raffle or the game is over, they go on to other non-gambling activities.

Q: Do teenagers gamble much?

A: Approximately 2 out of 3 teenagers gamble. Generally, the gambling comes in the form of bets with friends on a pool game, game of cards or professional sports. Those who are at least 18 years old are able to play VLTs, gamble in casinos, and buy lottery tickets.

Q: Do some teenagers develop problems with gambling?

A: Yes they can. A survey done in Alberta in 1995 found that 33% of adolescents do not gamble, 44% gamble but are not problem gamblers, 15% are considered to be at risk of developing problems and 8% are problem gamblers. The survey also found that adolescent problem gamblers are more likely to be male and are more likely to have first gambled at a very young age – often before they were 10 years old. They are also more likely to have a parent or relative that is a problem gambler.

Who is at risk?

Anyone who gambles can develop a gambling problem. If you started young, and if gambling is a frequent activity in your home or among your friends, you are at greater risk for developing a problem with gambling. You may not experience any problems at first, but problems may develop later on.

Often, people with gambling problems have troubles in other areas of their lives that they need to sort out – such as, feeling lonely or arguing a lot with parents.

Q: Why do people gamble?

A: Regardless of their age, people say they gamble mostly for the excitement, to test their skill, or for the fun of it. Problem gamblers have moved beyond fun and excitement and gamble out of need.

Q: If there is no way of predicting, how does someone know if they have a problem with gambling?

A: We can’t tell in advance if someone is going to develop a problem, but there are warning signs. Some of these signs can come in the early stages of a problem and some show up when the problem is already well established.

Here are some signs that a person may be developing a gambling problem:

  • Spends large amounts of time gambling. This allows little time for family, friends or other interests.
  • Has growing debts.
  • Refuses to explain behaviour, or lies about it.
  • Begins to place larger, more frequent bets.
  • Larger bets are necessary to get the same level of excitement.
  • During a winning streak, the gambler is on a high.
  • Boasts about winning.

Q: What are some of the typical behaviours seen in problem gamblers?

A: There are several but it is important to remember that not every gambler is a problem gambler. It is also important to note that not every problem gambler will show all the following behaviours:

  • The person with a gambling problem is secretive or defensive about money, and may borrow money from family members or friends.
  • Pins hopes on the big win
  • The problem gambler believes the big win, rather than changing the gambling behaviour, will solve financial or other problems.
  • Promises to cut back on gambling.
  • The problem gambler is unable to reduce or stop gambling. They often return the next day or a few days later to try and win their money back.
  • Feels frequent highs and lows.
  • If unable to gamble, the problem gambler misses the thrill of the action and may be bad-tempered, withdrawn, depressed or restless.
  • The person with a gambling problem loves to relive a win but will make light of losses when others express their concern. Wins and losses may also be kept a secret.
  • Prefers gambling to a special family occasion.

Where can you go for help?

If you are worried that you, or someone you know, may be having problems related to gambling, confidential help is available.

You will be able to talk to someone who can answer your questions and help you decide if you need further counselling.

Call the toll-free AADAC Help Line at 1-866-332-2322 or contact your local AADAC office.

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