What is gambling?

Gambling is betting money or valuables to win something of greater value but you do not know if you will win or lose.

Here are some examples:

  • Betting with friends
  • Playing cards or dice for money
  • Sports betting or pools
  • Poker
  • Casino games online
  • Raffle or 50/50 tickets
  • Lottery tickets
  • Scratch and win cards
  • Slot machines

What parents should know about gambling?

Why is it important to talk about gambling?

Children are seeing and hearing about gambling from many places such as:

  • Video games
  • Social media
  • Online promotions
  • Family members and friends
  • Lottery sales at corner stores
  • TV
  • Radio advertising

Children may be gambling as young as 10 years old.

  • Studies show that the average person with gambling problems started at 10 years old.
  • Gambling can start as early as elementary school. For example, playing cards or trading sports cards for money.
  • The younger a person starts gambling, the more likely they are to develop a problem.

What we know

Of Ottawa High School students (grade 7-12):

  • Over 1/3 (34%) said they gambled for money at least once in the past year. 
  • 10% said that they have gambled $50 or more at one time at least once in the past year.
  • About 6% in grade 9-12 reported some level of harm from gambling. Source: Public Health Monitoring of Risk Factors in Ontario- Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey - OSDUHS (2017), Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

In Ontario, 9% of youth grade 9-12 reported gambling online. Youth gambling online experience more harms than youth gambling offline.

The laws

The legal age to gamble in Ontario is 18 years old for lottery and bingo.  The legal age to gamble in Ontario at casinos is 19 years old. Some online gambling website follow Ontario laws while others do not have age limits enforced.

Internet Gambling

A person can now gamble online 24/7 on a smart phone, tablet or desktop computer. Studies show that a person gambling online can develop a problem faster.

What is the difference between Online Gambling and Gaming?

  • Gaming is about skills.
  • Gambling is about chance.
  • Video games are adding in-game options that are similar to casino gambling games.

When does online gaming become gambling?

It is gambling if:

  • The payment of something is needed to play a game;
  • The outcome of the game is based on chance, not skill; and
  • The prize has a real-world value that can be traded for cash.
There is growing use of micro-transaction in video games - often referred to as ‘loot boxes’, ‘skins’ or mystery prizes - which can be a type of gambling. Here is a list of some gambling features:
  • The player needs to purchase the prize
  • It is hard to understand how much money is needed to buy the prize as the credits in the game are different from the dollar amounts; 1500 credits = $24.99
  • The prize is unknown; generated randomly
  • Some prizes give an in-game advantage while others do not
  • Prizes are advertised in the game with pressure tactics, ‘on sale now’, ‘limited time offer’, ‘buy now’
  • Contents of ‘loot boxes’ can be sold for real money on secondary websites
When does gambling become a problem?
Gambling becomes a problem when a person continues to gambling even with the negative effects in different areas of someone’s life. This includes changes in mood, conflict in relationships and money problems.

Here are some signs for youth and young adults: 

  • Changes in personality or behaviour
  • Unexplained time away from school
  • Sudden drop in grades and/or incomplete assignments
  • Gambling apps on their devices
  • Playing daily or weekly games
  • Having trouble cutting down or stopping
  • Bragging about winning
  • Intense attention to sports scores
  • Borrowing or stealing money
  • Starting to forget appointments or dates
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Preferring gambling over other activities
  • Cannot stop thinking about gambling
For more warning signs and safer gambling tips for adults, visit our Gambling Webpage.
Talking to your child about gambling 
If you are worried about your child’s gambling, the first step is to talk about it.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health recommends:

  • Talking when you are calm, even if that means waiting until the next day.
  • Using “I” messages; “I would like,” “I prefer,” “I feel,” “I need.”
  • Making it brief.
  • Talking about only one subject at a time.
  • Paying attention to your nonverbal communication. This means tone of voice, facial expressions and body language. It is not only about what we say but also about how we say it.
  • Being aware of your own stress level as this will likely influence how you speak with your children.
  • Saying something positive to your child every day
Here are some more tips
  • Learn about the laws, the risks, and the warning signs of gambling
  • Be a role model as youth are more likely to gamble if their family members gamble. Explain that gambling is for entertainment and not a way to make money.
  • Limit or eliminate gambling activities at home and replace them with other family activities.
  • Clarify the odds: Share the real odds of winning
  • Set clear rules about gambling: rules about betting money or blocking access to gambling apps for smart phones.

Computer tips

Internet gambling is easy to find and do. Knowing your youth’s internet use is very important. Here are some tips to help you and your youth be safe online:
  1. Learn about what social media apps and websites your youth is using.
  2. Model and promote healthy screen time habits and ensure they enjoy a variety of other activities.
  3. Keep computers in a common area so you can track time and its use.
  4. Add a password to download apps.
  5. Use the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to help rate and guide video games and apps.
  6. Do not share your credit card information with your youth.
  7. Set parental controls by searching “Parental Control”, “Internet blocking software” or “Content filtering software”.
If someone you know is having a problem with gambling, there is help available.  The sooner someone gets help; the sooner things can start to get better! 

Gambling treatment service for youth, young adults and their families in Ottawa:

Peer Support

For more information on community outreach and presentation on youth, gaming and gambling, contact the Youth Gambling Awareness Program

For a complete list of youth services, please visit our Youth Resource Webpage and for general information, visit our Gambling Webpage.  

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