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The Teen Gambling Problem: Why Parents Shouldn’t Make Bets in Front of the Kids

Childhood experiences inform later habits – and once kids get a little older, observed habits like sports betting or online gambling can become a full blown gambling addiction.

A federal ban against sports betting was recently struck down by the Supreme Court and, in the wake of that decision, 14 states have moved to legalize sports betting. Those new policies will fall into place in the next two years. The hope is that this will generate billions in government revenue as millions put money on State or NBA games or what have you. For children, it’s likely to simply mean more exposure to gambling and conversations about gambling. That should concern parents. Children who are introduced to gambling by their parents can develop gambling problems as early as adolescence.

“A parent’s attitude about gambling can affect a child’s attitude about it. If a parent sends the message that gambling is not a big deal, then kids and teens are more likely to have the same beliefs,” says Emily Mendez, M.S., EdS., who specializes in addiction and substance abuse. “Teens who gamble excessively report that they first started gambling with family members. There is a clear connection in the research between a family history of gambling and adolescent gambling.”

Is adolescent and teenage gambling really a problem? In a word, yes. It turns out that the rate of gambling addiction in young people aged 14 to 19 years can be two to seven times higher than in adults. “Studies have found that as many as 15% of youth have gambling problems,” says Mendez. “Kids and teens do gamble, but in different ways than adults. Examples of youth gambling include students placing wagers on a football game or trying to sneak into a casino with friends.”

Because they cannot gamble legally, teens compound the financial risk of gambling with the risk of getting caught. Teens are poor at judging risk and the consequences of their actions, particularly with sex, alcohol, and money. There are developmental reasons for this, which means that parents can’t use logic to bring wayward kids back into the fold. And early explorations can directly affect their adult attitudes and habits toward those subjects, and it’s the same for gambling and money. Parents can guide and shape those attitudes. If a parent gambles, they should speak to their children about what gambling means.

Why Parent Shouldn’t Gamble in Front of Kids

  • Gambling is not quality time: Gambling is not an activity that kids can participate in, and so they will always be on the periphery. Families are better served when parents choose activities the whole family can participate in.
  • Betting is a risk: 15% of youth have gambling problems, and many of those are introduced to gambling through family members. The rate of gambling addiction in teens is at least twice as much as the adult population.
  • Think about the takeaway: If parents are going to visit casinos or gamble with their children present, they need to make sure that kids understand the consequences of gambling.
  • Childhood shapes later habits: kids who gamble with their parents are more likely to experience problem gambling later in life.


“It is important for kids to understand that gambling is risky – kids need to understand that gambling has consequences and should not be taken lightly,” advises Mendez. “Although it might not feel that way sometimes, kids and teens do listen to their parents. Understanding the problems with gambling and other risky behaviors will help kids make better, more informed choices about engaging in these behaviors.”

Parents don’t need to abandon their own lives to defer entirely to their children; occasional trips to the casino, like trips to the bar, may be perfectly fine.  Gambling can be legitimately fun, and it doesn’t have to be a problem, if properly budgeted and managed. But parents need to consider what their child is learning from those trips. It might be better to arrange a babysitter or send the kids to grandma’s instead.

“If a parent sends the message that gambling is not a big deal, then kids and teens are more likely to have the same beliefs,” says Mendez. “Parents should think twice about bringing their kids with them to gambling establishments.”