A poll about US teens’ access to online gambling reveals a need to educate parents about existing regulations and the potential threat of underage gambling. The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan asked parents of children aged 14 to 18 a series of questions about their kids’ habits and their knowledge of online gambling. One highlight of the findings is that over half of parents (55%) don’t know the legal age of gambling in their state.
Another worrisome finding is that over half of parents believe they would know if their teen was betting online, but only 2% believe they’ve done so. It’s hard to get an accurate picture of the actual number, but some estimates suggest that many cases are escaping parents’ notice.
Other key findings included:
- Only one in four parents have discussed some aspect of online betting with their teens.
- 22% think the gambling age should be 18-20 years—in most states, it is 21.
- Almost one in three adults (31%) in the household engage in online, in-person, or social betting.
- Almost two-thirds (63%) say they’ve seen gambling ads on TV in the past year.
Unfortunately, the poll didn’t cover the topic of regulated vs. unregulated sites, a crucial difference when it comes to the accessibility of online gambling to underage individuals.
Debt Tops List of Parental Anxieties
Parents also shared their concerns about teenagers engaging in online betting.
The most common fear—at 83%—was that it would lead their children into debt. 77% also worried about gambling addiction, and 51% were concerned about the potential impact on credit scores.
The poll also asked parents what strategies they believed would be effective in minimizing the risks of gambling for young adults. The top answers were:
- Restricting betting after losing a certain amount of money, aka loss limits (43%)
- Offering a “parent view” option to monitor online betting accounts (38%)
- Verifying legal age with photo ID for opening an online betting account (33%)
- Limiting the amount that can be bet within a specific timeframe, aka bet limits (33%)
- Supporting treatment costs for those developing gambling addictions (25%)
Strict age verification is a regulatory requirement in all states with legal online gambling. Responsible gaming tools like loss limits and bet limits are also common requirements, though the specifics can vary from state to state.
The Pollsters’ Interpretation
Sarah Clark, M.P.H., who co-directed the poll, argues that gambling advertisements pose significant risks to teens and young adults. Poll respondents often reported seeing ads featuring celebrities, conveying the idea that gambling is exciting, and implying that you can play without risk.
The poll also suggests that many see online sports betting as similar to fantasy football and college basketball tournament pools. Many teens are already familiar with these products, and the legal age for real-money fantasy pools and daily fantasy contests is lower than the gambling age in many states.
Other online gambling options with features like bonuses and rewards are also familiar because they feel like the mobile games teens play on their phones. That may make it difficult for them to separate playing for fun from gambling.
The analysis accompanying the poll’s results argues that “many” online betting sites don’t require a login or proof of age. This is only an issue for illegal sites, most of which operate offshore, out of the reach of the law. Particularly problematic are those that use transactions in other video games as an alternative to payment processing: for instance, Counterstrike “skin gambling” and Roblox gambling sites.
Even when offshore sites use conventional currency, many teens now have bank accounts, making it easier to gamble online.
Parents, however, seem unaware of the extent of their teens’ exposure. The poll suggests that gambling ads could be made less problematic if used as a vehicle to encourage parents to talk about the risks associated with online gambling.
The poll recommends parents check state regulations and advocate for policies like age verification. It also recommends gambling hotlines that can point parents to gambling treatment options.
Legal Operators Have Tools Against Underage Gambling
Legal sportsbooks and online casinos are regulated and licensed by the respective state’s regulatory agencies (e.g., the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement or the Michigan Gaming Control Board). That means they follow strict state and federal rules and regulations, including verifying the user’s identity.
Operators ensure that nobody under the legal age to gamble can use the site by requiring users to upload a photo ID or enter their social security number. If a teen were to try to register for a legal online sportsbook, they wouldn’t pass the verification process. Also, many states have additional resources to protect users. One example is Ohio, where operators cannot advertise gambling promotions to customers engaging in non-gambling transactions.
Additionally, all legal operators have responsible gaming tools to help users with any signs of problem gaming. These include self-exclusion from gambling activities, setting limits on bets and playtime, and more. Users can also find links to information and agencies if they need help with problem gambling.
Unfortunately, other studies have found that many Americans don’t know the difference between legal and illegal sites. Even in the country’s longest-standing legal markets, a 2021 poll found that three-quarters of residents didn’t know how to tell a legal site from an illegal one. Nationwide, 35% didn’t even know whether legal options existed in their state.
Illegal Offshore Sites Pose Significant Risk
Many parents don’t understand that there are illegal offshore sites that don’t have the same tools as legal sites. Since they’re not licensed and regulated in the US, offshore operators are not required to follow US laws.
The big problem is that many people who use these sites do not realize they’re illegal. One reason is the massive misinformation by mass media, which often promotes offshore sites. Also, some, like BetOnline, have access to US audiences through sports partnerships that lend their brands an air of legitimacy.
This exposure to illegal sites is an ideal scenario for underage gambling. Sites like BetOnline, Bovada, and MyBookie often appear at the top of online searches. If an underage user wants to sign up, there is rarely much to prevent them from doing so.
A Swedish study on self-exclusion also points towards offshore sites as an issue for problem gambling. The study by the Department of Clinical Sciences at Lund University determined that 49% of self-excluded users breached their exclusion. Since Sweden has a country-wide self-exclusion service, the breaches are likely at illegal offshore sites.