Childhood gambling: A parent's guide to risks and prevention (2023)

The games your child plays online or on a mobile device could be introducing them to forms of gambling. Young children are sometimes exposed to games with similar reward structures found in adults-only gambling settings. Online gaming, apps, and sports bets are a few types of simulated forms of gambling that don't always involve money but can serve as a gateway to real gambling.

In psychiatric literature, gambling is considered a behavioral addiction. A 2017 report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found adolescent online gambling has become an issue of international concern. In 2018, Fatherly reported the rate of gambling addiction in young people ages 14 to 19 can be up to seven times higher than in adults. And a 2018 report by The Guardian found the number of 11- to 16-year-olds classified as problem gamblers in Britain quadrupled in two years.

As a parent, it's important to be aware of the media your child interacts with. With the rise of gamification, social media, and online gaming, there's a lot out there vying for children's attention.

When children do participate in online media that mimics gambling, it can also lead to increased exposure to untrustworthy websites. For example, pop-up ads for games might entice a child to sign up and give away personal information, or the app might install malware on a device or otherwise take advantage of the young gamer.

This guide explains the online gambling threats children encounter, what parents can do to mitigate them, and how to have meaningful conversations with children about the risks gambling poses.

How online gambling has become more prevalent among children

It's usually not labeled as "gambling," but many popular online games for kids involve chance and rewards -- just like gambling. Parents should be aware of gaming elements that mimic gambling, as well as popular influencers peddling "mystery boxes" that essentially steal kids' (or their parents') money.

Online gaming

Online gaming motivates kids to progress in a game, often by obtaining items. To get these items, some games gamify the process in a similar way to gambling: They ask players to spend real money for thechanceto acquire items that help them progress.

It's important to note the difference between downloadable content (DLC) that asks players to pay forspecificcontent, like additional levels or new characters, and DLC that asks for money in exchange for randomized rewards. Many games allow you to purchase content online, but randomized rewards are what mimics gambling.

If your child plays games online, be aware of these elements that can lead to child and adolescent gambling.

Aloot boxis a game element that is like a grab bag treasure box. Gamers can purchase them and will only find out the elements inside (a weapon, for example) when they open them. Loot boxes can be traded or sold within a game for other in-game currency.Loot boxes are a gaming elementthat has been condemned by the government of Belgium, investigated by the government of Sweden, and restricted by the Chinese government. In 2019, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley proposed the billProtecting Children From Abusive Games Act, which would prohibit selling loot boxes to children under the age of 18.

Skins bettingis an online gaming term that takes the form of gambling, but instead of gambling with money, gamers use "skins." A skin is a graphic that changes the appearance of a character in a video game. For example, a skin might be a graphic that turns a plain gun into one with unique colors and designs. There are third-party sites where gamers can gamble with their skins, using them as a virtual currency. To get a skin in the first place, a gamer typically has to purchase it with real money transacted within the game.

Games that enablelive chatduring gameplay enable players to challenge each other within a game and make live bets. With online payment apps like PayPal and Apple Pay, it's easy to demand payment right after winning a game.

Kids and teens who are fans ofesports competitionsmay find a way to bet on games. A2019 report by VentureBeatfound esports betting was on pace to reach $8 billion, with expected growth to more than $16 billion a year in the near future.

(Video) How parents can influence their children’s gambling behaviour

Other online gaming models, likefreemium games, can create addictive behaviors akin to compulsive gambling. For example, a game like Pokémon GO, which is free to sign up for, contains multiple in-app purchase options, from new outfits for a character to items that help a player progress in a game. There's no limit to how much a gamer can spend in real money in exchange for virtual "coins" that can be used to purchase items in an online game.

Influencers on social media

In addition to the addictive elements of online gaming, social media influencers have promoted forms of gambling. Their messages are seen by kids and teens, whose trust in the influencer may lead to gambling.

For example, in December 2018, YouTube influencer Jake Paul (who has more than 19.8 million subscribers) posted avideo for Mystery Brandthat has been seen more than 3 million times. The business, now defunct, charged users money to purchase a digital box, which would be filled with random items, ranging from a fidget spinner to sneakers, and sent to the purchaser's home. Vox reports users who opened the "Chanel" box, which cost $99, might receive a Chanel nail polish bottle valued at $28. Purchasers from Mystery Brand often reported prizes took several months to be received, or never came at all, and lacked tracking information.

Another YouTube influencer, RiceGum,also promoted Mystery Brandand later issued an apology video after coming under fire for promoting gambling to kids.

Similar stories are still occurring. In December 2019, influencer Ridhwan Azman, a Singapore YouTuber with more than 570 000 subscribers,posted a video for mystery box site DrakeMall, whichwas still in operation as of March 2020.

Online gaming is another growing area for affiliate marketers, who receive commissions based on conversions from their content. VentureBeat explains some of the vastpotentials for affiliate marketing in online gaming:

• Posting affiliate links in videos and descriptions

• Displaying affiliate promo codes during gaming streams

• Encouraging gamers to play games repeatedly

Affiliate marketers have the potential to earn more when they create gaming addicts for the games they're promoting. When those games contain gambling-like elements, the risk for addictive behavior spreads.

How to protect kids and monitor internet usage

Parents must be aware of how their children are spending their time online to prevent gambling behaviors.

"Children are growing up in a very different world to the one in which their parents did," writes Marc Etches, CEO of GambleAware, onThe Guardian. "We all share in the responsibility for preventing the harms that arise from gambling, and especially for protecting our children."

These tips will help you protect kids and monitor how they use the web.

Use internet provider parental controls

Mosthome internet providersgive users the capability to set parental controls. Here's how to set parental controls with some of the most popular internet providers.

(Video) Children & Technology: A Parent's Guide

• AT&T:AT&T's Purchase Blocker enablesparents to block mobile purchases from ringtones and appsthat are billed to a wireless account. You can also block certain websites and apps and control smartphone screen time using the AT&T Secure Family app.

Comcast/Xfinity:Use theXfinity xFi app to set controls on websiteschildren can visit and content that can be consumed while streaming. The Norton Security Suite filters out inappropriate content and enables monitoring of internet activity to prevent identity theft.

Verizon:The Verizon Family Safeguards & Controls enablesetting data usage limits and setting age restrictions on content.Parents can view and manage activity, schedule time restrictions, and more.

Charter/Spectrum:You can use Spectrum's Security Suite toset parental controls for contentand set time limits for internet usage.

Frontier:Frontier internet services enable you toset up parental controls with a Windows computerand give each Frontier account individual parental settings. Parental control capabilities include being able to set browsing time limits and control browsing content.

Install parental control software

There's an abundance of parental control software available. Below are some popular options:

Net Nanny: This program enables parents to monitor users' digital habits and limit screen time. Net Nanny also filters the content using artificial intelligence to protect web browsing. You can get instant reporting of online searches, see the apps your kids are using, and get real-time alerts for questionable content.

My Mobile Watchdog: A service that enables you to access your kids' text messages, contacts, and call logs. You can also block apps and websites with the service.

KidLogger: Parental control software that shows how long your child is using a PC computer, which apps they're using on an Android, Windows, or Mac device, which websites were visited, and more.

Qustodio: Allows parents to monitor kids' activities in real-time. The app works on iOS, Android, Kindle, Mac, and Windows devices. You can block inappropriate content, limit screen time, and set time limits for and block games and apps.

Kaspersky Safe Kids: This program works on PC, Mac, and mobile devices and enables parents to manage screen time. Parents can regulate activities, see usage reports, and customize settings. You can also block websites and manage access to games and apps.

The device your child uses may also have built-in parental controls. Talk with your smartphone provider to see what apps they recommend.

Set usage limits

You can use a free app to control how much time kids spend on their smartphones. For example, theGoogle Family Link for parents appenables parents to set screen limits and manage app usage. Apple'snewest operating system(iOS 13) also has screen time limit capabilities, app limits, and other parental usage limit controls, which can be useful for iPhones and iPads.

Talk to your kids

Communicate with your children about the dangers lurking online and what to look out for. Children start using devices as young as toddler age, so they have frequent conversations early on.

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You can initiate conversations using external cues. If there's a kid on TV using a smartphone, that can be a way to broach the topic, for example.

Foster an open and honest environment. Let your child or teen know you're there to talk with them about technology use without passing judgement -- model good behavior yourself by limiting your own screen time while you're with your kids.

How to talk to kids about gambling

Have a conversation with your child, so they understand what gambling is, how to identify risky behaviors, and how to avoid addictive behaviors. Here's how to approach discussing gambling with children:

Explain that gambling is illegal:Explain what gambling is and the ways it might appear without being in a traditional casino-like form. Kids who are under the age of 18 can't gamble in any form, including online.

Tell kids not to do anything online they wouldn't want a parent to see:Explain how parental controls and monitoring will work for your family. Be transparent about what information of your child's you'll be looking at.

Discuss screen time:Go over screen time reports with your child. Ask them how they feel when they're using a screen and when they're not. Identify addiction warning signs.

Ask about peer groups:Ask your child if they identify gambling behaviors among classmates and friends. Ask them how they handle those situations and explore ways to approach them.

When gambling is technically legal

Remember that while some American legislators are trying to outlaw them, some online games still have gambling-like features. Games like Candy Crush Saga have loot boxes that have gambling elements but are legal because of how they're structured. Trading in skins for gambling currency is also technically legal but is a form of childhood gambling.

Teens and kids also might get involved in fantasy sports leagues, which CNN reports aren't consideredgambling because they're a game of skill rather than chance.

Placing a bet among friends, like what your child could do while playing an online game in real-time, is also another gambling risk.

When gambling is not legal

Onlinegambling on United States-based websites is illegal. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation,web users are not allowed to:

• Place cyber bets on sporting events or in virtual card games

• Transfer money electronically for gambling

• Place bets in offshore online casinos

(Video) 2021 08-04 Preventing Underage Gambling Webinar

In all states in the U.S., the absolute minimum agesomeone can legally gamble is 18. The oldest age you have to be to gamble in the U.S. legally is 21 years old.

Where to find more information

If you have questions about gambling in your state, look on your state government's website or contact your state legislators. FindLaw is another good resource to seegambling laws by state. You can also check the site to see the latestgambling news.

How to spot a gambling addiction

Watch out for these gambling addiction warning signs. Try to identify them early to mitigate the risks.

• Your child spends most of their free time on online gaming sites.

• Your child neglects relationships with family members and friends in order to spend time on gaming sites.

• Your child's gaming site usage is noticeable to others, such as a sibling who brings it up to you.

• Your child has stolen money from you to spend on online gaming sites or on mystery boxes.

• Your child has sold their belongings or engaged in destructive behavior to get money to pay for gambling behaviors.

• Your child has expressed frustration with a game or mystery box yet spent more money to redeem their loss.

• You've restricted online time for your child or teen's gaming usage, and they've been angry with you for doing so.

In cases where a gambling addiction is taking place, you may consider rehabilitation and/or counseling for your child to overcome their addiction. Gambling behaviors at a young age may carry on into adulthood. Taking care of the problem earlier can prevent unwanted behaviors later on in life.

In Summary: How to protect your child

Technology is addictive for many people, especially children. A2019 report by Common Sensefound in the U.S., 8 to 12-year-olds spends an average of 4 hours and 44 minutes on entertainment screen media every day, while teens use screens for an average of 7 hours and 22 minutes for non-homework related tasks. If your child is like most, they regularly use their smartphone, tablet, computer, and other screen devices. That potentially exposes them to gambling in many forms.

To prevent your child or teen from gambling illegally or from participating in legal games with addictive gambling elements like loot boxes, use parental controls to set limits on screen usage. Have honest and open conversations with your children about what gambling looks like and why it can be dangerously addictive, and check in regularly with your kids about how they're using your devices so they can healthily use them.


How do you stop kids from gambling? ›

You must have policies in place that prevent underage gambling.
Test purchasing to prevent underage gambling
  1. Think 21 or Think 25 policy.
  2. regular test purchasing to be undertaken, to ensure the licensee monitors the effectiveness of their controls.
  3. use of magnetic locks to restrict access to premises.
Jun 11, 2021

How do you explain gambling to a child? ›

Start the conversation
  1. Explain that gambling results in losses more often than wins. ...
  2. Explain that underage gambling is illegal.
  3. Talk to them about the consequences of problem gambling, including being sad, having no money to spend, lower grades, and damaged friendships.
  4. Encourage healthy spending.

What are the risks of gambling? ›

If gambling becomes a problem, it can cause low self-esteem, stress, anxiety and depression. Gambling can become an addiction, just like drugs or alcohol, if you use it compulsively or feel out of control.

What kind of activities should be considered as gambling? ›

Although there is no widely accepted classification, gambling forms that are usually recognized include lotteries, sports and horse betting, bingo, EGMs, card games, and chance-based casino table games such as roulette and craps.

How do I talk to my child about gambling? ›

How should I talk about gambling?
  1. create a safe space and lets the young person know that they can ask questions without feeling judged.
  2. be open and honest. ...
  3. show you as leading by example. ...
  4. be reassuring, if the young person is struggling with gambling, or other forms of addiction, let them know they're not alone.
Jun 3, 2021

How do I stop gambling forever? ›

Professional gambling addiction help is available to stop gambling and stay away from it for good.
  1. Understand the Problem. You can't fix something that you don't understand. ...
  2. Join a Support Group. ...
  3. Avoid Temptation. ...
  4. Postpone Gambling. ...
  5. Find Alternatives to Gambling. ...
  6. Think About the Consequences. ...
  7. Seek Gambling Addiction Help.
Jun 24, 2022

What are the positive effects of gambling? ›

Gambling enables you to pick up skills while playing. You learn to be more observant, mentally task your brain, and study patterns and numbers. It is suitable for your mental health to keep your brain engaged with the activity actively. Using strategy and tactics to try and win helps you to exercise mentally.

Is gambling a moral issue? ›

Morality or ethics has been at the heart of controversies regarding gambling because some people consider it as unethical. The consideration of gambling as an immoral act is largely attributed to religious beliefs and stigma of obtaining money relatively for nothing.

How does gambling affect families? ›

Anxiety, guilt, shame, depression, insomnia, behavioral problems and emotional insecurity begin to afflict all the family members that are closest to or living in the same environment as the problem or compulsive gambler.

What are the 9 risks of gambling? ›

Compulsive gambling can have profound and long-lasting consequences for your life, such as:
  • Relationship problems.
  • Financial problems, including bankruptcy.
  • Legal problems or imprisonment.
  • Poor work performance or job loss.
  • Poor general health.
  • Suicide, suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts.
Jun 18, 2022

Is gambling a mental illness? ›

It is classed as an impulse-control disorder. It is included in the American Psychiatric Association (APA's) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fifth edition (DSM-5). Problem gambling is harmful to psychological and physical health.

Who is most at risk for gambling problem? ›

Problem gambling and teens/young adults

Young adults aged 18–24 are more likely to engage in risky gambling behaviour. That is because their brains are still in development and until the age of 24 or 25 years, emotion and logic isn't fully realized. That makes good decision-making more difficult.

How does gambling affect youth? ›

Among youth, problem gambling has been shown to result in increased delinquency and criminal behaviour, poor academic performance, higher rates of school truancy and dropout, and disrupted familial and peer relationships (Hardoon et al., 2002; Wynne, Smith, & Jacobs, 1996).

Can you gamble at 16? ›

Some gambling activities do not have age restrictions, like playing a toy grabber game in the hope of catching a prize or making a bet with one of your friends about something. For others, you have to be aged 16 or over, like playing the lottery. But for most gambling activities, the legal age is 18.

How long has gambling been around? ›

Gambling dates back to the Paleolithic period, before written history. In Mesopotamia the earliest six-sided dice date to about 3000 BCE. However, they were based on astragali dating back thousands of years earlier.

What is the meaning gambling? ›

gambling, the betting or staking of something of value, with consciousness of risk and hope of gain, on the outcome of a game, a contest, or an uncertain event whose result may be determined by chance or accident or have an unexpected result by reason of the bettor's miscalculation.


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