Gambling - Overview

Young Canadians today are growing up in a culture where gambling is legal, easily accessible – especially online – and generally presented as harmless entertainment.

Youth who gamble are at greater risk than adults of becoming problem gamblers.[1] Approximately four to six per cent of Canadian high school students are addicted to gambling and another 10 to 14 per cent is at risk of developing an addiction – which means that they already show signs of losing control over their gambling behaviour.[2] A 2017 study found that almost a third of Ontario students in Grades 7 to 12 had gambled at least once in the last year.[3]

Young people are increasingly turning to internet gambling, which is anonymous and convenient. A study of Montreal, Quebec high school students showed that nine per cent have gambled for money on the internet.[4] Even if they don't seek out gambling sites, youth may see ads for them online. These ads often make gambling seem fun, social and risk-free.[5] They can be very effective: four in ten young people say that gambling ads make them want to try it,[6] and how often the ads are seen is directly linked to how interested viewers are in gambling.[7]

Youth don’t need money to gamble online, however, and kids from a young age are learning that online gambling is a fun and harmless activity. For example, many young people bet on sporting events on sites that offer prizes to the best players and many social networking sites geared to youth include free gambling applications.

There are also a number of internet sites and apps that offer youth the option to play casino type games such as slot machines and blackjack without using real money, but displaying winnings and losses in terms of dollars. These kinds of sites and applications train young people to gamble by blurring the line between real and virtual money.[8] In many cases, these practice sites have a higher win rate than the pay sites to more effectively encourage young gamblers: one in four gamers who play on free gambling sites go on to actually gamble online.[9]

Gambling training begins very early online. Many video games now feature "loot boxes," in-game items which can be bought with real money and give random rewards, such as new weapons, powers or cosmetic character changes.[10] Loot boxes aren't exactly the same as gambling -- players always get something for their money, though the value of what they get varies -- but buying them is psychologically similar to gambling[11] and there is evidence that buying them is linked to problem gambling.[12] Video game "skins" (customizable character designs) are also used for gambling: at least half a million children in the United Kingdom are thought to have participated in this.[13]

Online gambling is difficult to regulate because of the varying laws in different countries and provinces. Some countries, such as Belgium, have banned the sale of loot boxes in video games, while other countries have taken an approach based on raising awareness of the problem.

Young people may also be exposed to gambling through traditional media, such as televised poker tournaments. Watching these has been shown to make viewers more receptive to gambling ads.[14] Gambling is also associated with sports. In Australia, three out of four children aged 8-16 who watch sports can name at least one sports betting company.[15] The rise of esports, professional video game competitions which are extremely popular among teen boys, has led to its own gambling industry as well, with revenues projected at ten billion dollars (US) in 2020.[16]

In May 2012, the Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) released a policy statement on gambling in children and adolescents. 

Among the CPS recommendations:

  • Physicians and healthcare providers should screen for gambling problems, as well as depression and suicide risk in adolescents already known to have a gambling problem.
  • Parents should be aware of the signs of problem gambling and monitor their children’s online activities and gambling habits.

[1] Friend, K.B. & Ladd, G.T. (2009). Youth gambling advertising: A review of the lessons learned from tobacco control, Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 16(4): 283-297.

[2] Gambling problems. International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors.

[3] Boak, A., Hamilton, H. A., Adlaf, E. M., Henderson, J. L., & Mann, R. E. (2018). The mental health and well-being of Ontario students, 1991-2017: Detailed findings from the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) (CAMH Research Document Series No. 47). Toronto, ON: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

[4] Derevensky, Gupta, and McBride, 2006. Internet Gambling Among Youth: A Preliminary Examination.

[5] Korn, D. ( 2005). Commercial gambling advertising: Possible impact on youth knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and behavioural intentions. Report for the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre, Guelph, ON.

[6] Derevensky, J., Sklar, A., Gupta, R., Messerlian, C., Laroche, M. & Mansour, S. (2007). The effects of gambling advertisements on child and adolescent gambling attitudes and behaviors. Report for

[7] Griffiths, M. (2017). The psychosocial impact of gambling in virtual reality. Casino & Gambling International, 29: 51 – 54.

[8] Drummond, A. & Dauer, J.D. (2018). Video game loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling. Nature human behavior 2(8): 530 – 532.

[9] Kim, H. S., Wohl, M. J. A., Salmon, M. M., Gupta, R., & Derevensky, J. (2014). Do Social Casino Gamers Migrate to Online Gambling? An Assessment of Migration Rate and Potential Predictors. Journal of Gambling Studies, 31(4), 1819–1831. doi: 10.1007/s10899-014-9511-0

[10] Ore, J. (2017, October 29). Are loot boxes turning video games into slot machines? | CBC News. Retrieved May 22, 2020, from

[11] Drummond, A. & Dauer, J.D. (2018). Video game loot boxes are psychologically akin to gambling. Nature human behavior 2(8): 530 – 532.

[12] Zendle, D., Cairns, P., Barnett, H., & Mccall, C. (2020). Paying for loot boxes is linked to problem gambling, regardless of specific features like cash-out and pay-to-win. Computers in Human Behavior, 102, 181–191. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2019.07.003

[13] Parent Zone. (2018). Skin gambling: teenage Britain’s secret habit.

[14] Lee, H.S., Lemanski, J.L. & Jun, J.W. (2008). Role of gambling media exposure in influencing trajectories among college students. Journal of gambling studies, 24: 25 – 37.

[15] Thomas, SL, Pitt, H, Bestman, A, Randle, M, Daube, M, Pettigrew, S 2016, Child and parent recall of gambling sponsorship in Australian sport, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, Melbourne

[16] Griffiths, M. (2017). The psychosocial impact of gambling in virtual reality. Casino & Gambling International, 29: 51 – 54.