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The YMCA Youth Gambling Project


Youth today are the first generation to grow up in a world where gambling is legalized, normalized and actively promoted. Research has shown that gambling patterns are established as early as 8 years of age and can be in place before an adolescent reaches high school (Derevensky & Gupta, 1998).

Studies of gambling among adolescents in four provinces, including Ontario, report significantly higher rates of pathological gambling among young people than among adults. In addition, studies show that problem gamblers are significantly more likely to start gambling earlier in life than non-problem gamblers (Gambling in Canada; A Report by the National Council on Welfare, 1996).

I Youth Gambling in Canada

Govoni, Rupcich and Frisch (1996) conducted a study in Windsor, Ontario and found that 90% of adolescents were involved in gambling activities. This result is consistent with data from other North American cities. Problem gambling was defined in this study as a score of 5 or more on the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS-RA) - Revised Adolescent screen (Winters, Stinchfield and Fulderson, 1993). (This revised version of the SOGS (Lesieur and Blume, 1987) is devised to measure gambling problems in adolescents.)

The Canadian Foundation on Compulsive Gambling (1994) (now known as the Responsible Gambling Council (Ontario)) conducted a telephone survey in the Province of Ontario with 400 adolescents aged 12-19. Using the adult SOGS screen, this survey found that 65% of the sample had participated in gambling in the previous year, 4% were probably pathological gamblers and 33% were problem gamblers.

Govoni and colleagues (1996) found that levels of problem gambling (no problem, at risk and problem gamblers) varied systematically with maximum amount gambled. Levels of problem gambling also varied according to gender. Males in this sample had 11.8% and 13.9 % rates of problem gambling and at risk gambling compared to 4.8% and 5.4% of females. Furthermore, adolescents who reported that their parents gambled excessively had almost twice the rate of problem and at-risk gambling.

Finally, levels of problem gambling also varied depending upon the number of gambling activities that the adolescent had participated in. Those with 0-5 lifetime number of gambling activities had a 2.9% rate of problem gambling while those with 6 or more had a 13.5% rate of problem gambling. However, it is also important to note that we do not know whether the signs and symptoms of pathological gambling among adults are relevant to adolescents at all and, if they are, we do not know to what degree and how to validly measure these symptoms (Kaminer & Petry, 1999).

Despite the fact that there are legal age limits in Ontario, underage gambling is a significant component of the high level of gambling demonstrated in these studies. Only 7.5% of the sample in Kaminer & Petry's (1999) study admitted having gambling problems. This suggests that many adolescents do not perceive their behaviour as problematic. Of the sample, 8.6% admitted borrowing and not being able to pay back money because of gambling and 2.2% admitted to having stolen because of gambling.

Correlates of problem gambling include poor academic achievement, truancy, regular drug use, delinquency, and a progression to further problematic gambling behaviour. Some studies have found that adolescents involved in problem or pathological gambling are more likely to be involved in aggressive behavour, stealing, truancy, drug sales, and prostitution (Kaminer & Petry, 1999).

With regard to prevention, Griffiths (1993) describes the need to develop family communication and support. Allowing the adolescent to discuss the problem openly with someone is an important step. Prevention efforts are also recommended by Kaminer & Petry (1999), noting that our failure to draw attention to the needs of adolescents at high risk for problem and pathological gambling may result in an increase in the number of pathological gamblers in the next generation, a concomitant increase in emotional and financial damage to these individuals and their families, and in legal and financial costs to the community.

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II YMCA Youth Gambling Project

Goal: The goal of the YMCA Youth Gambling Project is to implement prevention and educational strategies, on a pilot project basis, in order to reduce the harm associated with gambling and/or problem gambling within youth between the ages of 8-24. The project has been funded for 3.5 years through the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, Ontario Substance Abuse Bureau.

Outcome: This project has the potential to de-stigmatize gambling in the public view, to increase awareness of the problem, and to provide options to young people, their parents, and care-givers to talk openly about this issue and seek treatment.

More about the project: The YMCA Youth Gambling Project is a collaboration between the YMCA of Greater Toronto and six local YMCAs across the Province. The YMCAs are in Barrie, London, Ottawa, Sarnia, Sault Ste Marie and St. Catharines. The YMCA does not place value judgments on gambling, but sees it as a choice that people engage in; therefore our approach is gambling neutral.

We offer:

* Community awareness sessions

* Community referral services

* Formal presentations to schools and other organizations that work with youth between the ages of 8-24 years

* Educational workshops for:

* Parents

* Teachers

* Health professionals and other agencies/organizations working with youth

For more information contact

Tom Walker

Director, Youth Gambling Project

YMCA of Greater Toronto

Tel: (416) 413-1020 ext 2123

Louise Smith

Project Coordinator, Youth Gambling Project

YMCA of Greater Toronto

Tel: (416) 413-1020 ext 2290

III Selected References

Adlaf, E., Ialomiteanu, A. (1999) "Prevalence of Problem Gambling in Adolescents: Findings From the 1999 Ontario Student Drug Use Survey." Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 45, 752 - 755

Derevensky, J., Gupta, R. (2000) "Prevalence estimates of adolescent gambling: A comparison of the SOGS-RA, DSM-IV-J, and the GA 20 Questions." Journal of Gambling Studies, Vol. 16, 227 - 251

Derevensky, J., Gupta, R. (1998) "Adolescents with gambling problems: From research to treatment." Journal of Gambling Studies. Vol. 16 (2-3) 315 -342

Ladoucer, R., Bouchard, C., Rheaume, N., Jacques, C., Ferland, F., Lebond, J. (2000) "Is the SOGS an Accurate Measure of Pathological Gambling Among Children, Adolescents and Adults?" Journal of Gambling Studies, Vol. 16, No. 1, 1 - 23

Volberg, R. (1999) "Gambling Impact and Behavior Study." National Gambling Impact Study Commission, Chicago, Gemini Research

The Wager: The Weekly Addiction Gambling Educational Report, Massachusetts Council On Compulsive Gambling, Harvard Medical School. You can sign up at to receive this weekly.

The International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High Risk Behaviours

Responsible Gambling Council (Ontario)