Advocates Hope To Increase Problem Gambling Awareness Among Youth

Written By Drew Ellis on March 22, 2022
Dice in the hands of a kid

As the state of Michigan continues to see an increase in gambling access and availability, the industry is hitting a broader market.

The age of the problem gambler is dropping, which also means that awareness of gambling is hitting a younger audience.

During Problem Gambling Awareness Month, advocates are hoping to spur more action to educate youths on the issue.

The new normal of a gambling world

Over this past month, we’ve looked at a number of topics when it comes to problem gambling.

We already know that the face of the average problem gambler has shifted to males between ages 18-and-35.

We also know that $1.2 billion was spent on sports betting advertising across the United States in 2021.

Those ads are being marketed toward that younger audience.

With sportsbooks landing partnerships with professional and collegiate athletic teams, young adults are seeing these brands in multiple avenues of their daily lives. Some advocates for responsible gambling feel that is normalizing gambling.

“We’re giving an image to the people under the age of 18 that this is the way of life,” Jody Bechtold, CEO of the Better Institute, said regarding sponsorships with teams. “Yet, to many of us, this is still brand new.”

Given the problem is new, it’s hard for many to identify what problem gambling is, and how to address it with kids.

“Many of us have an idea or could define what responsible drinking is. How many of us could actually define what responsible gambling is?” said Brianne Doura-Schawohl, Founder of Doura-Schawohl Consulting LLC. “We have to start talking to people the way the industry talks to them, through online messaging, push notifications. We have to speak to this new demographic.”

New problem, but a growing one

According to multiple global studies, 1.1 million youths, ages 12-17, exhibit pathological gambling behavior in the U.S.

The 2022 Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Survey came out recently, and a total of 7,050 students in grades 7-12 were surveyed on their gambling activity.

Gambling activities identified in the survey were:

  • Playing cards for money
  • Betting on games of skill
  • Sports wagering
  • Lottery tickets
  • Scratch-off tickets
  • Fantasy sports
  • Betting on eSports

When questioned over the loss of control, lying or preoccupation over these different forms of gambling, it found that 8.3% exhibited behaviors of a problem gambler. A total of 29.7% exhibited social/occasional gambler habits.

Of the males surveyed, 11.1% fit under the problem gambler label, while 5.3% of the females did.

Those numbers have been steadily growing over the past six years of the survey. The areas that saw the greatest growth were card games, skill games, lottery and scratch-offs.

A total of 70.2 percent of the students surveyed said they have participated in some form of gaming (not necessarily gambling) and 65.4% participate in gaming at least 2+ hours a day.

“Most people think of a problem gambler as a middle-aged male, who was a horse race player that is now a casino player or an online player or a sports gambler,” said Jeffrey Derevensky, Ph.D. of Psychiatry at McGill University. “You don’t hear the word ‘teenager’ coming into that. Yet the prevalence rates for adolescents with gambling problems are higher than for adults. Except they don’t present themselves in the same way.”

How, why are youths gambling?

It’s easy to think that kids under 18 aren’t gambling because it isn’t legal.

But the reality is that kids of all ages find their way into it, just like many adults did in their past.

Just typing in the word “gambling” on Amazon will register more 10,000 possible purchase options.

Scratch-off lottery tickets can often be based around children’s games like Monopoly or Bingo. You can also purchase those scratch-off tickets at vending machines which don’t require a show of identification to purchase.

Games on phones or tablets also play into the gaming world. Though a game could be “free” to play, it charges for extra bonuses without providing a potential to win back that cash.

Youths may also make wagers with friends for material goods like clothing or toys.

According to the 2022 ADMHS 1 in 10 youths admit to gambling for money or personal items.

While some may verbalize a desire for money, the study showed that these three reasons were often most motivating to gamble:

  • Excitement of winning
  • Peer pressure
  • Family views on gambling

Not a standalone issue

The 2022 ADMHS also dove into the multiple layers of mental health issues that can be associated with problem gambling.

A problem gambler may be exhibiting greater issues of addiction that could be sought elsewhere even if their gaming was limited or removed.

Of those students that fit into the problem gambling label, here’s a look at how other issues factored into their lives:

  • Lives with someone having mental health issues: 37.4%
  • Lives with someone who was a problem drinker: 23.8%
  • Resides with someone that went to jail or prison: 28.0%
  • Witnessed parents get separated or divorced: 43.8%
  • Domestic violence witnessed in the home: 9.9%
  • Physical abuse experienced from an adult in the home: 12.5%
  • Experienced neglect: 9.7%
  • Verbal abuse experienced in the home: 31.2%
  • Experienced sexual abuse: 9.7%
  • Experienced emotional abuse: 32.9%
  • Has had some form of suicide ideation: 32.4%
  • Has made a suicide attempt: 14.4%

These numbers all increased when including the social/occasional gambler into the study as well.

Alarm not sounding for parents

Over the past year, responsible gaming advocates are pushing the urgency of educating youths on the very subject.

However, they find that many of the parents and educators just don’t see gambling as a threatening issue. Especially when compared to substance abuse or sexual education.

That’s why advocates are pushing education on problem gambling not just for students, but for parents as well.

“With this increased accessibility to gambling, we’re going to look at a younger demographic of individuals who are gambling. So we’re trying to make sure they’re getting increased messaging about what gambling looks like and when it’s problematic,” said Alia Lucas, a gambling disorder prevention and treatment program specialist for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “We’re also targeting parents, too, because that’s often a demographic that we disregard as far as youth and young adults. Some parents aren’t considering the possibility of their children engaging in that behavior. So, we want to bring it to the forefront so parents are aware of how prevalent it actually is.”

Getting the word out

The MDHHS is amping up their efforts in 2022 to get the word out to young people about responsible gaming.

One of the programs being relied on is Stacked Deck, a virtual prevention training program. It is a curriculum that aims to provide education and prevention tools for kids and young adults, about gambling disorders.

“One of the things that we began implementing, we have a gambling disorder youth community coordinator. And we have prevention coordinators at seven of the 10 regions in the state of Michigan, all of whom have completed curriculum training of Stacked Deck,” Lucas said. “The goal is for them to have learned all the information, gather all the tools, and then take those tools into their individual respective communities and disseminate the information to the masses. Whether that be their local community centers, the high schools, the middle schools, whatever they feel is necessary within their region to educate and increase awareness amongst youth and young adults about gambling disorder.”

The need for more funding on problem gambling awareness is a concern.

To combat that, Lucas and other advocates hope to see an all-hands-on-deck approach from others in the gaming industry.

“I hope to see that we have more significant marks within the youth community when it comes to increasing awareness, and I also hope to see that there’s unilateral messaging between Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Michigan state lottery and the Michigan Gaming Control Board in regard to responsible gambling, and gambling disorder,” Lucas said. “It’s important that we all stay on the same messaging and have a cooperative impact.”

For more information on youth gambling awareness, visit

If you or anyone you know needs help with their gambling-related issue, call the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-270-7117.

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Drew Ellis

Drew Ellis is the Lead Writer of Playinmichigan, the No. 1 source for online gambling news in Michigan. A lifelong resident of the state, Ellis has been working in various forms of media since 1998, including more than a decade in the sports betting industry prior to transitioning into US casino markets in 2020.

View all posts by Drew Ellis