Gambling Dangers for Underage Teens

Courtney Ledbetter, THS Student

The dangers of gambling in adolescents range from mental and emotional damage to real-world consequences. However, despite this, in society today situations have been created where teenagers are becoming more associated with dangerous activities including gambling. The idea to participate in gambling is fueled by societal acceptance of underage participation through mass-produced video games that encourage it. Many young adolescents play only promotes the inclination to begin gambling in children. Some studies have even helped show evidence on how video game gambling increases the likelihood of future problem gamblers. This could be one of the factors to why the rate of adolescent gambling has dramatically increased, and the severity of the dangers with this participation. 

Adolescents have always had a tendency towards illegal activities. They can be swayed to participate in these acts, including gambling, from different exposures in their life. Some of these exposures could be from video games that have gambling scenarios in them. This has a detrimental impact on their already underdeveloped brains. This underdevelopment is partly why teenagers have been represented in culture and media as immature and prone to illegal activity. Human brains don’t fully develop until roughly the age of 25. In the adult brain, the prefrontal cortex is mostly in charge of decision making. In teenagers’ brains, however, that part of the brain isn’t developed. Teenagers depend on the amygdala. The amygdala has been shown to be connected to emotions, impulses, aggression, and instinct behavior. Since teenagers rely on this part of the brain for decision making, their decisions can be seen as rash and impulsive. This unreliable and emotional based thought process has teenagers participating in acts such as illegal gambling and drinking. While many can control this part of their brain, it does make them more susceptible to influence by outside sources. 

Not only does the underdevelopment of the brains push them towards gambling, but video games with similar experiences that resemble gambling do as well. Several video games in recent years have included activities such as in their storyboards. For example, popular games such as Fallout, Final Fantasy 8, Assassins Creed, and The Witcher 3 include the acts of gambling in different forms. These include blackjack, poker, slot machines, and loot boxes. The commonly known loot boxes found in several different games such as Overwatch, Star Wars battlefront, and Rocket League include a chance scenario that resembles that of slot machines. Even the most popular games including Candy Crush and Runescape include wheels of fortunes which resemble Roulette or the Big 6 Wheel. These games expose adolescents to situations where they are rewarded for participation in a risk-reward system similar to casino gambling. A research study was done by David Zendle and Paul Cairns about the effects of loot boxes and the severity of gambling problems. Loot boxes are virtual items that can be purchased and provide random items for the player. The boxes can have special weapons, in-game money, and even different outfits for their characters. The rare items are less likely to be awarded unless more money is spent. The loot boxes have a similar effect to slot machine spins. In the study, it was found that of the 7,422 individuals observed, the more they spent on loot boxes, the larger the problem of gambling was. While these results looked at adults, with the underdevelopment and impulsiveness in the brains of teenagers, the results could help show why the amount of teens gambling has increased.

Also, with the underdeveloped brains of teenagers and the additional force of gambling in everyday activities, they have increased impulsiveness and a proclivity that endorse gambling. Gambling stimulates the brain and creates quick euphoria upon wins. It’s no wonder the rates of underage gambling addiction has increased. According to, there has been a recent increase of minors gambling by 2.1%. This means that roughly 2,605,306 teens participate in underage gambling. This participation puts them in danger not only with the law but also psychologically impacting their brain growth. The result of youth gambling results in issues with mental health and increases the likelihood of participation in drugs and illegal substances. According to Adolescent Gambling Research by Mary K. Wilber (BA) and Marc N. Potenza (MD and Ph.D.), they found that minors gambling more likely to experience substance abuse as adults. They did a study on adolescents and found that elevated rates of alcohol use and abuse went simultaneously with their gambling proclivity. Even their mental health seemed to be in effect as the researchers found that teenage girls who participated in gambling were more likely to report dysthymia and depression. A study was done at a high school in Vermont that found adolescent gambling was associated with increased rates of a variety of risk behaviors, including alcohol use, substance use, the reluctance to use a seatbelt, driving under the influence, and violence. 

Overall, the dangers of being involved in gambling situations at a young age are risky. The underdeveloped brains along with the influence of video games in these situations can lead to the influence of minors in underage gambling. The actual act of gambling leads to more serious situations. Combining the brain of an underdeveloped adolescent with underaged gambling will create mental instability including depression and substance abuse. With the rate of underage gambling on the rise, the dangers should be revealed to those at risk of the consequences. With over two million teens participating in underage gambling, the knowledge of these consequences could help someone at risk stop before it is too late.