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Adolescent Gambling & Mental Health

June 15, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Jill Barnas

Executive Summary

The legal gambling age varies between states (either 18 or 21 years old) and differs with the type of gambling. Despite the fact that adolescent gambling is an illegal activity, research indicates that the increased availability of legal gambling has led to an increase in the prevalence of adolescent gambling and subsequent gambling problems among young people including psychosocial, behavioral, and financial issues. In recent years, numerous states have started to legalize internet gambling (or iGaming) in addition to sports betting and mobile sports betting. During the 2022 Missouri Legislative Session, nine bills were filed related to sports betting and wagering (HBs 1666, 2144, 2502, 2556, 2752; SBs 643, 764, 1046, 1061). 


  • Nationwide, it is estimated that 1–2% of adults have a gambling problem. This number is higher in adolescents, ranging from 6–9%.
  • Evidence suggests that iGaming tends to be used  by those who are younger and/or  are less  frequent visitors of casinos.
  • Like adults, excessive forms of adolescent gambling can result in poor academic performance, intrafamilial conflict, difficult peer relationships, social exclusion, and mental health issues including increased suicidal ideation and attempts, drug and alcohol use, and delinquency/criminal problems.
  • Sports betting is legal in 32 states and Washington, D.C. The majority of states set the legal age to participate in sports betting at 21 years old, with the exception of 4 states that set their legal age to 18 years old. 


  • It is difficult to estimate the number of individuals with a gambling disorder because many individuals do not recognize they may have a gambling issue and may inaccurately report their gambling behaviors.
  • There is no publicly available data investigating the prevalence of gambling disorders among adults and adolescents in states with sports betting legislation (including mobile sports betting) compared to states where sports betting is not permitted.
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