Snake Eyes: A Look at Teen Gambling

– by Doug West 
© 2003, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding

Today’s teenager lives in a world sandwiched between childhood and adulthood. Bombarding teens on all sides are adult “forbidden fruit” temptations that are legally out of reach in terms of age, but considered, by many, to be normal “rights of passage” meant to be done “safely” and in “moderation.” Gambling is one such example.  Impressionable and impulsive teens are particularly vulnerable to the exciting, enticing and seemingly innocuous entertainment options presented by gambling.

Today’s culture is increasingly accepting of, and receptive to, gambling. A Gallup poll conducted in the spring of 1999 found that 52% of 13-17 year old teens and 63% of adults approve of gambling. Lottery jackpots and winners receive national attention on a regular basis. Almost every state endorses some form of legalized gambling in order to generate tax revenues. In addition to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, several Indian reservations around the country have built and run casinos. Now, thanks to technology, gambling is branching out onto the Internet, even as Congress attempts to legislatively curb and block its expansion.

Given this backdrop it should come as no surprise that teen gambling is on the rise and is the fastest growing addiction among teens, according to an A&E Investigative Report on teen gambling. Consider these eye-opening facts:

  • The A&E report cites a federal study that estimates 7 million teens gamble (
  • Florida researchers found that 70% of 13-17 year old Floridians gambled during their lifetime, with an accompanying association with substance abuse, and an average initiation age of 12.5 (
  • The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago reports that 28% of 16-17 year olds participated in private betting (
  • The Gallup Organization discovered that 26% of teens said they took part in some form of legal gambling, with 27% betting on professional sporting events and 18% on college games, and that 29% of teen gamblers made their first wager when they were ten years old or younger (
  • The National Research Council estimates there are 5.7 million problem and 2.2 million pathological adolescent gamblers (
  • USA Today reported on the trend to entice younger gamblers by using popular cultural figures like Austin Powers on video slot machines (USA Today, 9/26/02).

Teen gambling, as with any other hobby or activity, is a function of time, access, attitude and funds. Teens who have the time are given ample “gateway” opportunities to be introduced to and indoctrinated into gambling. Typically it begins with simple card and dice games. Then, it can move on to lottery tickets, horse tracks, and fantasy sports league competitions. Many kids get involved in weekly football, baseball, and basketball pools that are popular in middle and high schools around the country. Clearly, the most menacing and pernicious opportunity for teens to gamble comes from the Internet because of its easy access, and interactive and anonymous nature.

Teen attitudes are shaped by, and steeped in, the relativistic postmodern cultural landscape, which reflects a mindset that snubs absolute truth in favor of subjective feelings. Here, gambling is viewed not so much as a sin – as with the Las Vegas “Sin City” label – but as a matter of personal preference and choice.

Teens finance their gambling in many ways. They can wager allowances and wages, borrow or steal a parents’ credit card and PIN number, or resort to dealing drugs and/or stealing to support their burgeoning habit. Novice and technologically savvy teens can bypass stated age restrictions on Internet gambling sites by using an alias or creating or assuming an identity to become virtual players.

What can parents, pastors and educators do to combat the growing teen gambling trend?

First, raise awareness about the destructive realities of gambling where real people lose real money, and where casual, fun entertainment can become an obsession and addiction that ultimately consumes and ruins lives. Tell them that gambling is harmful, destructive, and wrong. If the potential for a problem exists, perhaps a visit from a reformed gambler who has overcome their sinful behavior with God’s help might be helpful.

Second, set a consistent and biblical example. Parents play the primary role in modeling healthy and mature attitudes and behaviors for teens in regards to gambling. Youth workers and teachers can support parents and reinforce the message through the power of their example.

Third, know where your teens are, who they are with, and what they are doing. As with any other teen behavior, parental knowledge is a wonderful preventive prescription. And finally, if gambling becomes a problem or addiction, get them help. Check to see if any Christian counselors in your area are competent in dealing with issues related to gambling. You can also check out or


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For more information on resources to help you understand today’s rapidly changing youth culture, contact the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.