NCRG-Funded Study Assesses Trends In Youth Gambling Behavior

Findings Highlight Importance of Monitoring Gambling Behaviors as Young People Mature

May 8, 2003

Kansas City, MO– A recently released study funded by the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG) revealed that problem gambling rates among the youth population had no significant changes over an eight-year span.

The University of Minnesota study, led by Ken C. Winters, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry, was motivated by concerns that early gambling involvement and continued exposure to gambling opportunities would trigger a meaningful increase in the rate of heavy gambling and problem gambling during late adolescence. The study was not able to validate these concerns.

The study did find, however, a considerable increase in “at-risk” youth gamblers, those individuals withpotentialto move toward a more severe level of problem gambling at some future time.

“The rapid expansion of legalized gambling has increased concerns that our country is producing a young generation of over-involved gamblers,” said Winters. “However, little is known about the course and outcomes of gambling behaviors from adolescence to young adulthood. This study provides the most scientific examination to date as to what happens to young gamblers as they age into young adulthood.”

The prospective examination involved interviews with 305 Minnesota-based students at three intervals (ages 16, 18 and 24) over an eight-year period. Although the study found no significant increase in the rate of problem gamblers from adolescence to young adulthood, it found several risk factors that would likely contribute to the potential for future gambling problems, including early interest in gambling, substance abuse, school problems, juvenile delinquency, being a male and parental history of problem gambling.

“Because of the significant increase in the rate of at-risk gamblers at the young adulthood stage, perhaps the most important assessment we can make from this study is the importance of monitoring the course of gambling behaviors as young people mature and to initiate prevention programs prior to the teenage years,” said Winters.

“Screening teenagers and young adults with a high-risk profile for possible gambling problems is a crucial element to prevention, as well,” Winters added. “Additionally, the possible etiological role of family history highlights the importance of educating parents about how their gambling behavior can negatively influence gambling attitudes of their children.”

“The Prospective Study of Youth Gambling Behaviors,” which was published inPsychology of Addictive Behaviors,was funded by the NCRG and the State of Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Past studies on youth gambling funded by the NCRG have similarly indicated that youth pathological gambling prevalence rates – although higher than adult prevalence rates – have remained stable over time.
‘This study provides a much needed scientific step in the right direction,” said Maj. Gen. Paul A. Harvey (Ret.), chairman of the NCRG. “Research into youth gambling is a priority for the National Center for Responsible Gaming – it will lead us closer to understanding why some youth are more prone to gambling problems than others and help us initiate better education and prevention programs.”

To date, the NCRG has committed more than $500,000 to research and education on youth gambling. The NCRG participates in an international think tank to address youth gambling as a public health issue, and provides support for a youth math curriculum “Facing the Odds: The Mathematics of Gambling and Other Risks.” Developed by Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addictions, the curriculum teaches statistics and probability in order to improve students’ ability to make informed choices when confronted with gambling opportunities.

Future research priorities in youth gambling will be to further understand the extent to which at-risk gambling develops into problem gambling and what factors mediate this outcome.

The NCRG was established in 1996 to address the need for a greater understanding of pathological gambling and related disorders. Since 1996, the NCRG has awarded $3.7 million in research grants to more than 20 institutions, and in 2000 awarded a $2.4 million contract to Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addictions to establish the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders to carry out the research initiatives first established by the NCRG.