As it becomes increasingly easier to bet on sports online, the rate of betting addictions in teens has also shot up. Retail sports betting has become legal in 30 states, allowing 60% to 80% of high school students to gamble online, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling; 4% to 6% of those high schoolers are considered addicted.
“We believe that the risks for gambling addiction overall have grown 30% from 2018 to 2021, with the risk concentrated among young males 18 to 24 who are sports bettors,” said Keith Whyte, the National Council on Problem Gambling’s director.
According to the International Center for Responsible Gambling, teens who gambled online had more problems when compared to people who played in-person games.
The warning signs of gambling are similar to addictive tendencies: low mood, anxiety, stealing money, and appearing preoccupied.
In general, online betting has become more and more popular in recent years. According to a poll conducted by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland, two-thirds of surveyed adults approved of legalized sports betting, but 60% of those surveyed were concerned with the increasing ability of child gambling.
Unfortunately, gambling addiction services are underfunded since betting has become more persuasive, and any services are focusing on adults.
This ongoing problem has only come to light recently with health departments and state legislators, but there is still a lack of gambling services for adolescents.
“We were starting to hear and see that the risk for teens with gambling disorders was high,” said Rose Blozinski, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling.
In 2015, the Wisconsin council developed a gambling addiction prevention class aimed at high schoolers.
In Virginia, a new law has been passed that requires the state Board of Education to create educational material for gambling as a part of the current curriculum.
“This is a problem that needs to be addressed,” said Virginian Delegate Sam Rasoul. “It’s a great first step for Virginia.”
Although she is in support of the new law, Brianne Doura-Schawhol, a lobbyist on gambling issues, asked, “Is it going to be enough to move the needle? I’m not sure. What we’re not taking into account is the normalization in our culture of gambling… and how it affects the kids.”
While it is a major problem that is sweeping the country’s youth, gambling addictions fade into the background when compared to drug, alcohol, and tobacco addictions. Both federal and state governments do not take nearly as much action to help with gambling problems. For example, states advocate 318 times more for drug and alcohol services.
No federal agency has responsibility for the treatment or prevention of gambling addictions, which puts all the pressure on the states. Furthermore, none of the gambling tax revenue of $7.6 billion is put into treating or preventing addictions.
“A lot of youth don’t think of gambling as a problem. They don’t think it’s risky behavior,” said Heather Eshleman. As prevention manager at the Maryland Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, she has worked with teens in several community settings. “They say the stores don’t card someone if they try to buy a lottery ticket. And nobody talks about it—not their doctor, not their school—they’ve never heard messages in those settings.”
As for parents, they should use parental controls on devices and not share personal ID information on devices where teens can get ahold of said information.
While actions can be taken to prevent gambling amongst teens, in some cases, it is inevitable.
“We don’t want them to gamble at all, but we say, `If you’re going to gamble, gamble wisely,’” said Amanda Winters, problem gambling administrator in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. “And know when to stop.”