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Trust & Social Media: How Youth are Exposed to Gambling Online

Published: June 12, 2023

Technology has changed young people’s lives in many ways. But perhaps the most significant for youth gambling prevention advocates is how easily and quickly youth can be introduced to sports betting and gambling through social media, well before the legal gambling age of 21.

Despite the potential for harm and risk of problem gambling later in life, youth are now seeing gambling and sports betting everywhere as the lines between gambling-related content and regular content grow fuzzier. One 15-year-old boy told several UK researchers writing in The Conversation that he sees skits and ads that seem to be about sports but also mention betting when he watches YouTube videos. “It’s not about gambling though,” he said. “I see them when I watch highlights, too.”

As another youth told the researchers: “It makes it seem, because it’s everywhere, it must be something normal.” But youth gambling is, in fact, not “something normal.” About 10-14% of youth ages 12-17 are at risk for developing a problem with gambling, and the effects of exposing young people can impact them for the rest of their lives. 

Increasingly, that exposure is starting when youth spend time on social media platforms that prioritize interactive content and personal-seeming relationships with influencers. From Twitch to Twitter to TikTok, many young people use social media platforms as a way of keeping in touch with friends, getting information, or finding entertainment. And for some, that entertainment might involve following or supporting an influencer or media figure, like a gaming personality or professional athlete. 

As a youth follows an influencer over time and learns more about their life, habits, and tastes, they might develop a trusting, if one-sided, relationship with them. They may begin to view them as a friend and take their recommendations seriously, which can lead to buying certain products or taking part in certain kinds of activities. 

While often relatively harmless, that trusting relationship can also lead to exposure to gambling and sports betting. The influencer might be paid to talk about their gambling and sports betting experience as part of a promotion, or be associated with a sports betting company, as has become common with chart-topping sports podcasts. Or they might be a sports betting and gambling enthusiast of their own accord, and just talk about it to their audience while playing games or chatting about sports, without thinking about how many of their audience are young and impressionable. 

Even when it happens unintentionally, exposing children to gambling can lead to a greater risk for problem gambling later in life, with 6.5% of 14–21-year-olds already at risk for problem gambling before the widespread legalization of sports betting in 33 States. 

That’s why Change the Game Ohio is working hard to stop youth gambling before it starts here in Ohio. With so many influencers of all kinds discussing sports betting and gambling online, raising awareness about the dangers of youth gambling is now doubly important. 

The Change the Game Ohio web site contains a wide variety of resources that you can use to begin a discussion about social media, influencers, and the dangers of youth gambling with the children in your life. These resources include discussion guides to get the conversation started and fact sheets for educators, parents, and youth. By reviewing Change the Game Ohio resources, refraining from exposing children to gambling on social media, and talking with the children in your life about the risks of gambling, you too, can help prevent youth gambling in Ohio.

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