Gambling is taking part in a game or activity where you risk losing something, usually money, in order to try and win a prize.  It is all down to chance and usually the odds are very much against you.  The reason that people gamble initially is usually for entertainment.  They then continue as it is exciting and to make money, although this rarely happens!

We all know that some adults are addicted to gambling and that children and young people living with parents or carers that are affected, are likely to suffer as well.  However young people are also directly at risk of developing problems with gambling.  Research tells us that 2% of young people aged between 12 and 15 develop gambling problems.  That could be you or one of your friends.

In recognition of the danger that gambling can cause young people, the Gambling Act 2005 makes most gambling for under 18s illegal, with the exception of the National Lottery, and slot machines with low stakes, which is 16.

Types of Gambling

Common types of gambling that young people may become involved in include slot machines, lottery, scratch cards or through playing card games (e.g. poker, backjack) with friends, visiting casinos or various forms of on-line betting.  It can start off as harmless as just a one off, such as betting of a cup final football game or buying a charity scratch card but can get out of hand and become an obsession.

What are the signs that things are getting out of hand?

Warning signs can include:

  • a significant interest in gambling and gambling related activities, with it becoming a main leisure activity;
  • stakes that continue to increase;
  • problems at school or college, including loss of interest, completing assignments or skipping attendance;
  • changes in personality or behaviour, including becoming moody, angry that people begin to comment on;
  • telling lies about the amount spent on gambling or winnings;
  • borrowing money to gamble;
  • desperately trying to win back money or possessions that have been previously lost;
  • being put at risk physically if gambling debts can’t be paid;
  • feeling low or depressed; and
  • not being able to stop or give up as it feels too hard.

If you are worried, you can take an on-line quiz to assess whether you might have a problem.

What impact does it have?

Gambling addictions, like any other addiction, can take over your life.  Young people may not be aware of the risks associated with gambling or the harmful impacts of problem gambling.  Bad things that can happen include:

  • losing money that you need to spend on other things such as lunch money, bus fares, clothing etc.;
  • mental ill-health including depression, loss of self-esteem, feeling of guilt;
  • resorting to criminal activities to fund gambling – such as theft – which could lead to a criminal record;
  • falling out with friends and family due to changes in behaviour and loss of trust;
  • not doing well at school and college; and
  • failing exams that impact on a future career.

What support is there?

There are specific organisations that work with young people

  • GamCare provides information, advice and support for anyone affected by problem gaming.  Their work encompasses education, advice, treatment and communication.  The organisation has a ‘youth hub’ in London.  You can call the GamCare Helpline free on 0808 8020 133 (08:00 to midnight) or download their leaflet – Gambling & Youth.
  • Big Deal shares experiences of young people that have developed addictions including football betting.
  • The Mix provides information on what is a gambling addiction, who is most likely to be affected by gambling, what are the temptations, difficulties that may be encountered during the process of giving up gambling, and how to deal with a relapse.
  • The Money Advice Service provides free and impartial money advice via web chat or via 0800 138 7777 (Monday to Friday 08:00 to 20:00 and Saturday 09:00 to 13:00).
  • Childline 24/7 free phone line 0800 111.