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Addiction & Mental Health

Three times more Canadian teens gambling online

Waterloo - Three times more Canadian teenagers are gambling online than previously thought, according research from the University of Waterloo and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

Researchers found close to 10 per cent of adolescents—or an estimated 58,000 teenagers— had gambled online in the past three months. Earlier reports suggested the rate was closer to 3 per cent.

“When asked about their involvement in specific types on online gambling, like sports betting and poker, we found that teens are actually much more engaged in internet gambling than previously thought,” said Tara Elton-Marshall, a scientist in social and epidemiological research at CAMH who co-led the study.

The study, published in BMC Public Health, found males were over four times more likely than females to gamble online. It also reported that teenagers who gamble online are more likely to participate in forms of land-based gambling like instant-win tickets, slot machines and card games.

"As the availability of government-sponsored online gaming opportunities expand and become more actively promoted, we expect the prevalence of internet gambling among teenagers to continue to grow," said Scott Leatherdale, a professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems at Waterloo and co-lead of the study. “The more engaged adolescents are in gambling, the more likely they are to face problematic behaviour down the road.”

The study found teenagers who gambled online already reported a higher scores of problem gambling, which includes a variety of different behaviours such as dropping out of team sports to spend time gambling or stealing from others to pay off gambling debts.

Current provincial legislation surrounding internet gambling varies. While Saskatchewan does not offer any government-run online gambling, the Atlantic provinces only offer lottery tickets or iBingo. British Columbia, Quebec and Manitoba recently legalized internet gambling, and in January 2015, the government of Ontario launched their own legalized online gambling platform. Researchers have yet to evaluate changes in gambling behavior since the Ontario legislation.

“Considering online gambling is now controlled and promoted by the government in some jurisdictions, such as Ontario, it’s important to evaluate the effectiveness of those actions moving forward and tweak legislation to keep teenagers off of gambling sites as long as possible,” said Professor Leatherdale.

The study looked at data collected from 10,035 high school students in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and Saskatchewan collected as part of the 2012-2013 Canadian Youth Smoking Survey.

This project was funded by the Gambling Research Exchange Ontario (GREO), formerly the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Centre.

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