Why Some Children Gamble

“No young person should be gambling until they are 18 as it is illegal.”

The Gambling Commission’s annual survey of young people in October 2019 found that 11% had spent their own money on a gambling activity in the 7 days prior to taking part in the study. This  equates to approximately 350,000 11-16 year olds in England, Scotland and Wales. 

Participation in gambling remains higher among boys (13%), compared with girls (7%) and older children (12% of 14-16 year olds, compared with 9% of 11-13 year olds). 

But why do some young people gamble? 

The same group of young people surveyed by the Gambling Commission in 2019 were asked to consider why they had gambled in the past 12 months. The most common response was ‘because it’s fun’ (55%) with ‘to win money’ and ‘it gives me something to do’ (31%) second on the list. Other reasons on a long list included ‘because it’s cool’ (11%), ‘because it’s something my parents/guardians do’ (10%) and ‘because it helps me when I feel depressed’ (6%) along with the influence of siblings and peers (both 6%). 

According to the NSW Youth Gambling Study 2020 (Hing et al, 2021), which looked at the gambling and simulated gambling behaviours of 12-17 year olds in New South Wales, Australia, 29.8% had spent money on gambling and 53.7% of those who had, did so with their parents and 19.5% with their grandparents. 

Returning to the Gambling Commission report (2019), boys are more likely to gamble ‘to win money’ than girls (36%/24%), and young people who gamble ‘because it’s fun’ are more likely to be gambling on fruit/slot machines (53%). 

Among the young people who have not spent money on gambling, the most common reasons cited included ‘because it is illegal’ (56%) and concern about future problems that gambling could lead to (35%). 

The key finding here is that there is no one catch-all reason why some young people gamble and some don’t and whilst research from GambleAware end Ecorys (2018) confirms that parents and family members can act both as a risk and as a protective influence in relation to young people’s gambling, it is important to take a whole-family approach to create an environment where children feel able to speak openly with their parents about gambling.

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