54% of 17-year-olds have gambled in past year, study finds

More than half of 17-year-olds have gambled in the past year, according to a new study.

Regular weekly gamblers are more likely to be male, with habits and patterns of play developed by age 20.

The gambling habits of parents, along with social media use, were found to influence a young person’s gambling activity.

The study, commissioned by the charity GambleAware, measured young people’s gambling at the ages of 17, 20 and 24.

It found 54% of 17-year-olds, 68% of 20-year-olds and 66% of 24-year-olds had gambled in the past year.

Playing the lottery, buying scratch cards and placing private bets with friends were the most common forms of gambling.

Regular gamblers had lower wellbeing scores and were twice as likely to smoke cigarettes daily and drink alcohol weekly.

Data for the research came from Bristol Children of the 90s, a longitudinal study based at the University of Bristol, and featured more than 3,500 people per age group as well as surveys and interviews with parents.

The findings will be presented at GambleAware’s annual conference in London on Thursday.

Alan Emond, emeritus professor of child health at the Centre for Academic Child Health at Bristol Medical School, said: “The unique features of the Children of the 90s gambling study are that the parents’ gambling was measured before the young people’s gambling, and the young people were asked about their gambling activity three times in the transition period from adolescence into young adulthood.

“Although many young people gambled without any harm, a small minority (6-7%) of males showed problem gambling behaviours associated with poor mental health and wellbeing, involvement in crime, and potentially harmful use of drugs and alcohol.

“To protect these vulnerable young people from gambling harm requires a combination of education, legislation and appropriate treatment services.”

Online gambling
Online gambling

The study found that as the young people got older, there was a significant increase in online betting activity among men.

This rose from 9% at age 17 to 35% at age 20, and 47% at 24.

There was also an increase among women, from 0.8% at age 17 to 4% at age 20, and 11% at 24.

Environmental and family factors had a significant impact on gambling activity, the researchers said.

Young people whose parents gambled regularly were more likely to gamble themselves.

Regular gamblers were found to have high social media usage and to have been regular players of video games when younger.

Marc Etches, chief executive of GambleAware, said the charity is focused on “keeping people safe from gambling harms”.

He added: “In particular, we are concerned to protect children and young people who are growing up in a world where technology makes gambling, and gambling-like activity, much more accessible.

“One in eight 11 to 16-year-olds are reported as following gambling businesses on social media, for example.

“Our annual conference will showcase the Bristol Children of the 90s study alongside other important contributions to discussions that will examine the theme of gambling and young people from a public health perspective.”

A spokesman for the Betting and Gaming Council, the UK gambling industry’s trade association, said: “Rigorous age verification checks introduced by our members mean that it is now virtually impossible for anyone under the age of 18 to gamble online.”