Canadian Study Finds Social Casino Games Are Popular Among High School Students

Posted on: October 28, 2018, 03:00h. 

Last updated on: October 28, 2018, 09:01h.

A new study from a group of Canadian researchers has found that free social casino games are very popular with high school students, with about one in eight having played the games in the recent past.

Social casino study teens
A new study by Canadian researchers has found that social casino games have become very popular among high school students. (Image: LocojoyEntertainment Co.)

The study, conducted by researchers from Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and published in BMC Public Health, found that such gameplay is linked with a higher risk of gambling problems for at least some teens.

Researchers Say Early Exposure to Gambling is Dangerous

Overall, the study found that 12 percent of teens in three Canadian provinces had played social casino games at least once over the past three months. That included the popular social casino apps on Facebook, as well as free internet poker and internet slots sites. The study surveyed a total of 10,035 students in grades nine to 12 in Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan during 2012 and 2013.

According to scientists who worked on the study, while these games are not regulated like gambling, they can have a similar impact on the minds of teenagers.

“Adolescents’ participation in seemingly risk-free social casino games is a concern because we know that early exposure to gambling activities is a risk factor for developing gambling problems in the future,” said Dr. Tara Elton-Marshall, a scientist in the CAMH Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, said in a statement.

In Canada, as in the United States and most other regulated jurisdictions, most students of high school age can’t legally gamble for real money. But that doesn’t mean they can’t try free versions of virtually every type of gaming.

It’s not quite as clear if social casino games lead to an immediate jump to real money gambling for underage players. But researchers did find that young people who have played these free-to-play games are more likely to participate in real money gambling as well.

“While it’s not clear whether young people begin in social casino games and move to gambling for money, or if adolescents who are gambling for money also seek out these free games, there is evidence that social casino gaming may build excitement for gambling and encourage the transition into monetary gambling,” Dr. Elton-Marshall said.

Study Might Underestimate Social Casino Popularity

Particularly concerning to researchers was the fact that those who played both real and social games were highly likely to show signs of problem gambling. While only about 10 percent of teens who only played for real money met the criteria for some level of problem gambling, that number may have been as high as 50 percent for those who also played free games.

The fact that the data used in the study is now a few years old could mean that these games are even more popular than the study suggests, said Dr. Livia Veselka, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at CAMH.

“With the growing number of social casino games over the past five years, and high levels of screen time among young people, we believe our findings may under-represent social casino gaming by adolescents today,” Dr. Veselka said.