A new study of gambling rates among Minnesota youth reflects a continued, gradual decrease in the overall rate of gambling among students in 9th and 12th grades. However, the rate of frequent gamblers, defined as those who gamble daily or weekly, has remained substantially unchanged. The analysis of gambling behavior from Minnesota public school students spans the period from 1992 to 2010, and is one of few such gambling trend analysis studies of its kind.

“The data suggests that youth gambling is not an epidemic as some have feared,” says the University of Minnesota’s Randy Stinchfield, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and the study’s lead researcher. “Gambling for most youth is an infrequent and inconsequential past time.”

Rates of gambling frequency from 2010 data indicate that the majority of boys (51% of 9th graders and 69% of 12th graders) reported gambling in the past year, whereas a smaller percentage of girls (23% of 9th graders and 42% of 12th graders) reported gambling in the past year. In terms of frequent gambling, a small but significant number of boys (12% of 9th graders and 18% of 12th graders) reported gambling weekly or daily while a smaller number of girls (3% of 9th graders and 4% of 12th graders) reported gambling weekly or daily.

The results beg the question as to why youth gambling has decreased over the years. “While our data doesn’t provide the answer as to why gambling has declined, we can speculate as to the reasons,” says Dr. Stinchfield. One idea is that the novelty of gambling, introduced in Minnesota in 1990, has simply worn off. Another possible explanation is that youth today have so many things competing for their time, including smart phones, texting and various online activities. “It may be that the immediacy of doing something on the phone or internet is better than waiting for a poker game to get started,” hypothesizes Dr. Stinchfield. Future studies may include questions about other activities enjoyed by Minnesota youth to determine the relative role of gambling among other recreational choices.

A second analysis of the student data focused on the rates of gambling among American Indian public school students. This was undertaken because American Indians may be more at risk for problem gambling given that American Indians tend to exhibit higher rates of other addictions than the general population. Furthermore, casinos are located on American Indian reservations, increasing accessibility to gambling.

The study found that compared to their non-American Indian public school counterparts, American Indian students gamble more in general, gamble more frequently, and gamble in casinos more often. While the study did not measure problem gambling specifically, the findings suggest that more American Indian youth are at risk for becoming problem gamblers. Overall gambling participation rates declined in the American Indian youth population from 1992 to 2010 just as they did with the larger population.

In the coming months, Dr. Stinchfield will study the gambling behavior of “out-of-mainstream” youth, such as students attending alternative learning centers and those living in juvenile correction facilities. “The anticipation is that these kids are at risk or involved in risky behaviors, and thus are going to have higher rates of gambling participation,” says Dr. Stinchfield.

Future research may examine the risk and protective factors for youth. “We do prevention programs before we necessarily know the protective factors,” says Dr. Stinchfield. “One way to identify those at risk is to look for other behaviors – such as alcohol and drug use, number of sex partners, bully behavior, etc. – that may correlate with frequent gambling.” Such a finding might suggest that gambling prevention programs be part of a more generic high-risk behavior program.

The data for the study was obtained from a student survey administered by the Minnesota Departments of Education, Health, Public Safety and Human Services. The Northstar Alliance for Problem Gambling provides financial support for the study.

If you’re interested in obtaining a copy of Dr. Stinchfield’s study, please email Linda@northstarproblemgambling.org.