Edition #17: October 2019

Photo of boy holding an iPad and looking excitedly at it, two other boys looking excitedly on.
Photo of boy holding an iPad and looking excitedly at it, two other boys looking excitedly on.
photo: iStock

Young people and gambling: what’s the state of play?

The current generation of children and adolescents are growing up in an unprecedented time when it comes to gambling. The digital age has made gambling easier and more accessible, and the opportunity to gamble is never more than a moment away.

Ubiquitous smart phones and social media also offer new avenues for targeted, personalised gambling promotions. A new grey area seems to be emerging, too, with gambling-like elements in video games and social media blurring boundaries and creating headaches, both for parents and regulators. Keeping up to date is harder than ever, and there is real public concern about what these changes mean for young people.

The data suggests that 25,600 adolescents in Victoria are, between them, spending $2.9 million on gambling each year.

The Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation’s recent ‘Knowledge in action’ workshop in Bendigo brought together researchers and the community to discuss what we know, and what we can do about current and emerging issues like the normalisation of gambling and new products and features that reinforce it, including e-sports, skins and loot boxes.

But what are the facts about young people and gambling? What is happening right now, and what information do we have that can help us anticipate the challenges of the future? Two Foundation-funded research reports launched during Gambling Harm Awareness Week 2019 offer unique snapshots of what this moment in time is like for young people.

Are school students loving the game or the odds?

In 2017, a series of gambling-related questions were added to a long-established national project, the Australian Secondary School Alcohol and Drugs (ASSAD) survey. The survey asked 3746 Victorian students aged between 12 and 17 about their gambling behaviours, attitudes and exposures. The study, The prevalence and correlates of gambling in secondary school students in Victoria, Australia, 2017, was led by Megan Freund at the University of Newcastle. It provides representative data on the subject for the first time ever in Australia. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Thirty-one per cent of students had gambled at some point in their lives.
  • Six per cent of students had gambled during the past 30 days, spending an average (mean) of $9.30.
  • Horse and dog racing was most common (54 per cent), followed by raffle tickets (51 per cent), betting on sport (38 per cent) and ‘scratchies’ (37 per cent).
  • Gambling was most common ‘at home or at a friend’s home’ (52 per cent), followed by a parent or guardian gambling for them (51 per cent). Eighteen per cent had gambled online.
  • Gambling was more common among boys than girls.
  • Gambling was linked to tobacco, alcohol and other drug use, and to having a mental health issue.
  • Of all students, 1.4 per cent were classified as having a gambling issue. This is five per cent of those who’d ever gambled, and 13 per cent of those who’d gambled in the past month.
  • Having a gambling issue was linked to socioeconomic disadvantage and to knowing people who gamble.

There is some good news here: some of the figures are lower than those found in previous studies. But there is also plenty of cause for concern. The data suggests that 25,600 adolescents in Victoria are, between them, spending $2.9 million on gambling each year. Just under three-quarters of the students had seen gambling ads on TV in the past month, exposure associated with increased likelihood of gambling during that time. This brings us to the next study.

Young people and gambling advertising – problems for the future?

Professor Kerry O’Brien from Monash University wanted to know exactly how much gambling advertising there is on TV and how many young people are watching. To find out, he purchased two sets information: data about gambling ads, and audience viewing figures. The resulting report, Extent of, and children and young people’s exposure to, gambling advertising in sport and non-sport TV, is the first in the world to compare advertising during sport and non-sport TV. Here are some of the key findings:

  • There was an average of 374 gambling ads per day on free-to-air TV in 2016; approximately five times the number of ads for alcohol.
  • Two-thirds of these ads occurred between 6 am and 8.29 pm, when large numbers of children and young people were watching.
  • Children aged 0–12 years had the greatest exposure to gambling ads, followed by adults aged 18–24, then adolescents aged 12–17.
  • On average, there were approximately four times as many gambling ads per hour in sport programming than in non-sport programming.
  • Exposure was greatest when watching AFL, followed by NRL, cricket and tennis.

The study also aimed to assess the effectiveness of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice in protecting children and young people from exposure to gambling advertising. The researchers found that changes made to the code in 2015 had led to an increase in ads when children and young people were watching.

In 2018, gambling advertising during live sport broadcasts between 5 am and 8.30 pm was banned in Australia, and it’s possible this has gone some way to reducing exposure. However, we know that large numbers of young people watch sport past 8.30 pm and will still be exposed to hundreds of gambling ads throughout the year.

The findings of this report were discussed at the recent ‘Shifting the goal posts on sports betting’ panel discussion co-hosted by Vicsport and the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation as part of Gambling Harm Awareness Week. There was a shared concern among panellists, including AFLW superstar Daisy Pearce, Geelong Football Club President Colin Carter and Western Bulldogs Football Club CEO Ameet Bains, about the level of young people’s exposure to gambling advertising. Young people’s familiarity with gambling companies and ability to cite betting odds were raised as examples of the increasing normalisation of sports betting amongst this group.

These two reports leave little doubt there is lots to be done.

Access the research reports:

Download infographics for the two research reports:

Gambling among secondary school students

Exposure of kids to gambling ads on TV

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