Where, how and when children and teenagers gamble
The legal age for gambling on the pokies, at the TAB or at a casino is 18 years, but some children start gambling very young – as young as 10 years. Most children have gambled by the age of 15.
For children and teenagers, the most common forms of gambling are card games at home or school, lottery tickets and scratchy cards. Some children move from these games to more serious types of gambling in later adolescence, like racing and other sports betting.
TV and the internet expose children to gambling. There are many gambling advertisements on TV, as well as thousands of online gambling websites, which children might access.
Also, children can gamble without money on apps and video games. Many apps and games rated as OK for children have gambling themes and content.
Smartphones and tablets let young people gamble at any time, day or night.
Why gambling seems like fun to children and teenagers
Gambling and gambling-like experiences are so widespread that children see gambling as a normal part of everyday life, including sport. And gambling advertisements send messages that gambling is fun, exciting and a way to join in with others and get rich easily.
Teenagers might think of gambling as a good social activity. This is because online gambling activities use chat and messaging to encourage people to bet with friends and share gambling stories.
Online gambling is often designed so that players win a lot in ‘practice mode’. Teenagers might believe that this winning streak will keep going when they play with real money. Most problem gamblers had what they thought was a significant ‘win’ early in their gambling history.
Gambling is based on chance, but some online gambling can look like video games and apps that involve skill. This might look like fun to teenagers and lead some young players to think gambling also involves skill. It could give them unrealistic or false beliefs about their likelihood of winning.
Preventing pre-teen and teenage gambling problems
Explain how gambling works
Children in the upper years of primary school are generally ready to learn about gambling, including the low likelihood of winning in the medium to long term.
It can help to explain the odds of winning in a way your child can easily understand. To do this, you could compare the chances of winning to other chances. For example, ‘Your chance of winning the lottery is 1 in 15 million. Your chance of being hit by lightning in your lifetime is 1 in 300 000’.
You could also explain that gambling companies are set up to make more money than they pay out to gamblers. If they didn’t make money, they wouldn’t be able to stay in business.
Look out for gambling warning signs
For teenagers having a hard time at home or school, gambling can be a fun but unhelpful way to cope with boredom or escape from stress or other problems.
If you watch out for social, educational or mental health problems, you might be able to prevent unhealthy activities like gambling.
At the same time, you can encourage more positive extracurricular activities. These can be a better way for your child to handle boredom or stress. They can help your child feel good about themselves, have fun and let off steam.
Think about family attitudes and activities
Your family’s attitude to gambling can influence your child. The less your child is exposed to poker machines, the lottery, scratchy cards or sports bets, the less likely they are to see gambling as fun. They’re also less likely to develop a problem.
If you do choose to gamble, you can help your child avoid problems by making sure they know how gambling activities work.
It’s also worth thinking about how often you use gambling language to encourage children. For example, ‘I bet you can’t swim to the other side of the pool. If you do, I’ll buy you an ice-cream’.
Talk about screen use and online gambling
The best way to help your child make good decisions about online gambling and gaming is by talking about quality media choices. For example, you could talk with your child about video games with gambling themes and content and why you’d prefer your child didn’t play them.
Also, if you encourage your child to have a balanced approach to screen use, they’ll have plenty of healthy ways to relieve boredom and escape stress. This might mean online gambling and gaming have less appeal.
And if you and your child agree on family screen and internet use rules together, it can help your child understand and accept your family’s rules. This might include limits on access to online gambling activities and the use of your credit card in games.
It’s all about making sure children balance screen time with other activities, and use quality digital media. Our healthy screen time checklist answers your questions about screen time and digital media choices for children and teenagers of different ages.
Spotting pre-teen and teenage gambling problems
It can be tricky to tell when teenagers have gambling problems because they don’t always run into the financial difficulties that adult problem gamblers experience.
Some warning signs that your child might have a problem with gambling can include:
- sudden changes in the amount of money your child has, your child being short of money, or your child borrowing or taking money from family and friends
- changes in sleep patterns, tiredness, low energy levels, changes in mood, or irritability when away from gambling activities
- falling marks at school
- withdrawal from friends, social activities and events
- positive attitudes towards gambling, or a preoccupation with video arcades, internet gambling sites, sports results or TV poker, or simulated gambling apps or games
- a new focus on sports odds instead of sport itself
- secrecy about gambling or denial that there’s a problem.
If there’s a problem, your child might also try to tell you that gambling is better than some of the other things they could be doing – for example, ‘At least I’m not taking drugs, Mum’.
You can get advice from a psychologist, your GP or local problem gambling services. You can also call the Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858, the Gambler’s Help Youthline on 1800 262 376, or Lifeline on 131 114. Gambling Help Online also provides email and webchat support services.
Risks associated with gambling
Low levels of gambling might seem safe for older children and teenagers, and some teenagers who are trying out new experiences do gamble. But gambling in childhood increases the risk of gambling problems in adulthood.
Teenagers who gamble are at greater risk of other harmful behaviour. This includes: