Study Finds Online Gambling Riskier Than Retail for Underage Gamblers

A study from medical researchers in Korea has found stealing, skipping activities, and worsening academic performance to be common indicators of teen gambling. The research also found adolescents who gamble online face a greater risk of gambling harm than their offline counterparts.

The research was a collaboration between Joung Yoo-Sook and Baek Ji Hyun of Samsung Medical Center and Oh Yunhye of Hallym University Sacred Heart Hospital. Their goal was to determine the core symptoms of adolescent gambling.

This new research may inform more effective problem gambling treatments for adolescents in the future. It also serves as a reminder of the importance of gambling regulation, as legal sites have stricter and more reliable age controls than the offshore black market.

42% Single-Year Spike in Treatment for Underage Gambling Addiction

According to data from Korea’s Health Insurance Review and Assessment Service, rates of adolescent gambling addiction have spiked in recent years.

Rep. Kim Do-eup of Korea’s People Power Party released the state-run organization’s statistics last June. They show that 7,063 Korean adolescents have been treated for gambling addiction since 2017 and that the annual number has been increasing steadily.

Only 837 adolescents received such treatment in 2017. By 2020, the number had risen to 1,597. In 2021, youth in treatment surged even higher to 2269, a 42% single-year increase. The study attributes some of that jump to the consequences of the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic on adolescent behavior.

Kim told The Korea Times:

With the proliferation of the contact-free culture due to the prolonged COVID-19, teenagers highly dependent on the internet and smartphones are falling into gambling, believing it to be a form of gaming.

Despite the overall rise in gambling addiction treatment for young people, another study found that fewer youth were receiving counseling for their gambling.

That statistic, also cited by Kim, came from the Korea Center on Gambling Problems (KCGP). The number of young people receiving counseling peaked at 1,459 in 2019 but declined to 1,286 in 2020 and 1,242 in 2021.

The state-run center blamed the decrease on pandemic-related school closures. It added that teens often receive counseling only after problems come to light at school rather than seeking it voluntarily.

Study Designed to Determine Symptoms of Adolescent Gambling

Against this backdrop of rising gambling addiction among youth, researchers Joung and Baek aimed to identify the core signs and symptoms of adolescent gambling.

To do that, the team analyzed the results of a 2018 survey collected by the KCGP. Of nearly 18,000 adolescent respondents, 5,619 had experience gambling.

They divided that group into two subsets: online and offline gamblers. Of these, the offline gamblers were far more numerous, at 5,095 participants compared to just 524 in the online group.

The team used Gambling Problem Severity Scale (GPSS) to evaluate adolescents’ gambling addiction. This is one of several subscales that comprise the Canadian Adolescent Gambling Inventory, a psychological self-reporting tool.

The GPSS survey asks respondents how often they engage in nine potentially problematic behaviors. These are:

  • Dropping or skipping activities to gamble
  • Hiding gambling activities from others
  • Stopping spending time with friends who don’t gamble
  • Making plans to gamble
  • Feeling their gambling is a problem
  • Using lunch or pocket money for gambling
  • Stealing money or objects to fund their gambling habit
  • Feeling bad about their gambling
  • Going back another day to try to win

The combined scores for each question create an overall severity ranking.

Adolescents that Gamble Online Rank Higher on Severity Scale

After analyzing the survey, the researchers found the online group’s average severity score was three times higher than the offline group.

In addition to being more severe, the online gambling group displayed certain unique characteristics.

A core symptom specific to online gamblers was that gambling made them feel bad. They also had a habit of returning to recoup their losses. Online players were also characterized by a tendency to avoid non-gambling peers and, consequently, experience social withdrawal.

Stealing was a common problem among both groups of youth gamblers, as was skipping or quitting activities.

These symptoms, researchers explained, can lead to leaving school early.

Adolescent gambling is gradually emerging as a serious health problem that requires more rigorous research attention.

The researchers expect these early findings to help improve adolescent gambling treatment in the shorter term.

Our finding indicates that stealing behavior in online and offline gambling is the most closely and strongly related factor with other gambling related symptoms in adolescents, and this result suggests the clinical importance of examining gambling related stealing behavior when screening and evaluating pathological gambling.

Academic Sources

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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