Underage gambling is a growing concern in New Jersey, with most teens saying they have gambled at least once on sports, poker, lottery, or casino games of skill. Right off the bat, you should know that underage gambling is illegal under New Jersey’s Casino Control Act.
More than that, gambling by minors can be detrimental to their health and relationships, almost often leading to addiction if not remedied on time. It can also hurt their academic progress and may land them in trouble with the law. It’s crucial for parents to understand the signs of underage gambling and how to prevent it before their children fall into the rabbit hole.
Today, we are going to look at notable risks of underage gambling in New Jersey and how parents can protect their children from it. We’ll also cover some of the most common ways to tell if your minor has picked up gambling.
How Online Gambling Has Become Popular among Minors in New Jersey
It’s easy to understand why tweens and teens can get sucked into the world of gambling with the promise of easy money and the thrill that comes with winning. The truth is that children at this age are fairly susceptible to the allure of betting because of their emotional, mental, and behavioral development.
Like adults, teenagers enjoy taking risks but they tend to think or care less about the consequences. For some teens who gamble, it can be a coping strategy in which they deal with a world filled with challenges, from confusing emotions to bullying at school. You can think of gambling as a way of numbing their minds, so they can forget about their problems — at least momentarily.
According to psychological experts, underage gambling is one of the fastest-growing forms of addiction among teenagers today, with some conservatives estimating that 4% to 7% of all teens in the Garden State suffer from modest to severe gambling problems. What’s more, girls are less likely to develop a gambling addiction than boys.
So, how and why has online gambling become more and more prevalent among tweens and teenagers?
– The rise of unregulated gambling sites
As with most states that have legalized gambling, New Jersey requires that anyone who wishes to gamble must be at least 21 years of age. You can start participating in the state-run lottery once you reach the age of 18, though.
All licensed and regulated casinos, sportsbooks, poker sites, and simulcast facilities in New Jersey are required to abide by this rule, failure of which can result in hefty penalties and loss of gambling licensing. While most on-site gambling establishments follow age restrictions strictly, sometimes underage gambling can fall through the cracks in the world of internet gambling.
Even more troubling is the rise of unregulated gambling sites that purport to offer services to players in New Jersey. Because they don’t have a gambling license from the New Jersey Department of Gambling Enforcement, they allow anyone to gamble, regardless of age, location, and time.
As long as your teen has got an internet-connected device, they can place bets and gamble anytime and anywhere. They can do so from the comfort of their own rooms, in their pajamas, and on their smartphones. After all, it’s fairly simple for children to sign up for accounts and play at gambling sites by lying about their age.
– Sometimes it all starts at home
Charity, as they say, starts at home. But it turns out the same could be true about gambling by children. Most teens and some tweens claim that they have placed a wager or gambled at least once, either at school or at home.
Kids often start gambling with siblings, parents, or other family members. For example, they may buy lottery tickets for their grandparents, play bingo at social events, play poker with adults, or receive scratch cards as gifts. While this starts out as an innocent pastime, it can quickly turn into a full-blown activity.
Kids as young as 8-10 years old have been known to indulge in underage gambling. In saying so, it is crucial for parents and guardians to know how and when gambling becomes a habit. More importantly, they should be alert to their kid’s gaming and other habits that may lead to gambling.
As they become older, tweens and teenagers graduate from silly dares and often start gambling with classmates and friends. As we’ve mentioned, underage gambling is usually more common among boys than in girls.
– The role of online gaming
Just like video games, online gaming entices gamers to advance from one level to the next, usually by earning or purchasing items. To obtain these rewards, some online games gamify in a way that mimics traditional gambling. For instance, some games force gamers to purchase points for a chance to not only progress in the game but also earn randomized rewards.
So, as with slot machines, these online games ask gamers to cough up real money for the opportunity to progress in the game. If your kid is into online gaming, be aware of these aspects that may lead to underage gambling. These elements include:
- Loot boxes: This is a gaming element that’s similar to a grab-bag treasure box. Players can buy them with real money and will only discover what’s in the loot box when they open it. They can be sold or traded for points and other in-game currencies. No wonder they have either been banned or restricted in several countries, including China and Belgium.
- Skin betting: This is another popular online gaming element that mimics gambling. Skin is what graphically changes the look of a character in an online game. For instance, you can use in-game points or currency to soup up an ordinary salon car into a sports car, or turn a typical rifle into a superweapon.
- Live chat: Online games with built-in live chat functionality enable gamers to place live bets while playing. They can use Apple Pay, PayPal, and other digital wallets to honor their bets.
- Esports: Betting on virtual sports and esports competitions has become a mammoth of an industry that’s estimated to be worth over $8 billion, according to a 2019 VentureBeat report. The trouble is that some children often play online esports tournaments that may lead to sports betting.
- Freemium games apps: These include games with in-app purchases like Pokémon Go
– The influence of social media
It’s not just online gaming and silly at-home dares that act as the gateway to underage gambling. Social media can also play a significant role. Some children are likely to gamble because they are being bombarded with gambling ads on social media, according to the Guardian.
Not just that; some social media influencers and big-wigs like YouTuber Jake Paul, RiceGum, and Ridhwan Azman have all been chastised for promoting gambling-like products such as DrakeMall and Mystery Brand. Because most teens trust these influencers, they are likely to take their message and indulge in online gambling.
Social media is also a haven for online gambling affiliate marketers. These are marketing agencies, freelancers, and individuals who earn a little commission by converting their audience into paying gamblers. They usually include affiliate links to gambling sites in their posts, videos, and descriptions.
Some affiliate marketers even lure would-be gamblers with lucrative free bets, casino bonuses, and other promo codes. The more people they bring on board, whether of legal age or not, the more commission they get.
Underage Gambling and the Law in New Jersey
We can’t overemphasize this enough. Underage gambling is illegal in all US states, including the Garden State. In fact, it’s quite a rampant charge in Atlantic City casinos and, more recently, at online gambling sites, according to the Law Offices of John W. Tumelty.
Underage gambling in New Jersey is actually a disorderly person infraction, which means it’s a criminal offense under the NJSA 5:12-119 (Casino Control Act. And the Act covers both online and offline gambling. The NJDGE is responsible for enforcing this piece of legislation to the fullest.
– What are the penalties for gambling as a minor in New Jersey?
If your child is found guilty of gambling as a minor in New Jersey, he or she will be answerable to a criminal that may go to their criminal record. In addition to that, a guilty verdict will lead to a fine of $500-$1,000, plus the violator’s driver’s licenses will be slapped with a 6-month suspension.
The underage gambler is not yet 17 years of age and hasn’t gotten a driver’s license; the issuance of a new driver’s license to them will be suspended for 6 months.
– Can online betting lead to an underage gambling charge?
Yes. It doesn’t matter if a minor is found to have gambled at an Atlantic City Casino or a gambling site, they will be charged with an offense of underage gambling.
Risk Factors for Underage Gambling in New Jersey
There are some factors that increase the likelihood of your child developing gambling problems in childhood, teenage years, or early adult life.
– Gambling attitude, access, and activities
Generally, your kid will be more likely to develop a gambling problem or get into underage gambling if your child:
- Has a big win, does lots of dares, or start gambling very early in life
- Has access to gambling opportunities on the web, at home, or at school. For instance, if you often play poker at home with your buddies and your child is watching.
- Has a favorable mindset, attitude, or opinion of gambling. For instance, if your kiddo thinks he or she will look cool/get famous if they gamble. If you often talk about winning a major jackpot being the gateway to wealth, then your child might pick up on that attitude towards gambling.
A gambling attitude is usually cultivated at home or school, so be sure to talk to your child about the dangers and realities of gambling.
– Behavioral risks
Children who are exposed to the following behaviors are at greater risk of underage gambling:
- If they drink, smoke, or abuse drugs
- If they have disciplinary or academic problems at school
- If they’re involved in other risky behaviors, such as truancy from school, shoplifting, vandalism, bullying, and fighting.
- If they have a parent with known gambling problems
Behaviors that may encourage underage gambling may be picked up at school, home, or from friends/relatives.
– Emotional risks
Your kid may be at increased risk of underage gambling if he or she:
- Is going through anxiety, depression, or distress
- Has a sensation-seeking, impulsive, or excitable personality
- Has a sibling or relative who likes to take a lot of risks/gambles
- Experiences family or relationship conflicts
- Has a problem-evading personality rather than dealing with issues head-on
Most kids with emotional problems tend to use gambling as a way of distracting themselves from their real issues. There are several other resources that tackle underage gambling risks and what parents can do to curb them.
How to Spot Underage Gambling in Children in New Jersey
As many as 10-20 percent of teens in New Jersey are at greater risk of developing a gambling problem. It’s upon their parents and guardians to spot telltale signs of underage gambling before they turn into a criminal charge, debt, depression, school truancy, and other negative effects.
– Family history of gambling addiction
Compulsive behavioral disorders like gambling addiction usually run in families. Any signs of underage gambling should be rectified immediately before they become a full-blown addiction and ruin your child’s relationship, academic progress, and more.
– Unexplained emotional problems
Emotional issues are quite common for teens. However, sudden, unexplained emotional problems like distressing behaviors, worried sadness, and frequent irritability can be attributed to underage gambling. Perhaps your child is worried about where they will get money to satisfy their gambling hunger.
Anxiety, signs of depression, low mood, and withdrawal symptoms may also speak to your child’s gambling tendencies. This is especially if they usually have no trouble with relationships, school, and discipline.
– Lying about money
If your child seems to be lying a lot recently about money, they may have picked up gambling. If there’s missing money and you suspect that your child may have taken it, underage gambling may also help explain their change in behavior.
– Increased use of online gaming/gambling sites
Your kid may be spending a lot of their free time on online casinos, sportsbooks, and other gaming sites. In a lot of cases, their gambling website usage is so noticeable to others that they cannot ignore it.
– Neglecting their relationships
You may notice that your son or daughter no longer spends time with their siblings, grandparents, or even pets. It could be that gambling has stolen their attention away from their previously valuable relationship.
In fact, one of the most notable signs of underage gambling is usually when the child starts neglecting their relationships with friends, family members, and other loved ones to spend more time betting.
– Stealing or selling stuff to get gambling money
Most children have very few financial obligations. Their allowance and wages from part-time work are usually enough to cover their whims and wish-lists. However, that’s never enough to meet their gambling needs.
For this reason, most underage gamblers usually engaged in damaging behaviors like stealing, borrowing money, and selling stuff to raise funds for gambling activities.
– Change in lifestyle
A minor who gambles usually experiences a sudden change in sleeping and/or eating habits. This can also be reflected in their social habits.
– Falling school performance
Underage gambling may also help explain sudden changes in your child’s school performance and behavior. Missing school, truancy, and other destructive behaviors at school may be associated with underage gambling.
How Parents can help with Underage Gambling in New Jersey
– Have an honest, judgment-free talk with your child about gambling
Some children are pressured into underage gambling by their friends, classmates, and even family members. It’s important that you stay one step ahead of them – talk to your child about gambling and its adverse effects.
Have an honest conversation with your kiddo, so they can know what gambling is, how to avoid addictive behavior, and how to identify risky habits. Here’s how to approach the conversation for better results:
- Make it clear that underage gambling is illegal – Discuss what gambling means and ways it may seem without looking like traditional casino gaming. Tell them that the state of New Jersey prohibits them from gambling until they hit the age of 21 and that this applies to both land-based and online gambling.
- Talk about screen time – Peruse through your child’s screen time and gaming site usage reports with him or her. Ask your child how spending time on-screen and off-screen makes them feel. Be alert to any signs of addiction.
- Ask your child not to do whatever they wouldn’t want you to see – Discuss everything to do with parental monitoring and controls. But emphasize more on self-discipline, transparency, and honest communication.
- Discuss their peer associations – Make sure your child isn’t hanging out with the wrong crowds that might lead them to underage gambling. Do any of their friends or classmates gamble?
- Talk about the dangers of gambling – Start by fostering an honest, open, and enabling environment so that your kid can truly learn about the risks of underage gambling. Talk about the dangers he or she should watch out for online.
- Communicate with your children about the dangers lurking online and what to look out for. Children start using devices as young as toddler age, so have frequent conversations early on.
Don’t limit your conversation to gambling. Talk about associative behaviors like drug use, drinking, smoking, and other ruinous behavior.
– Set screen usage limits
Excessive use of smartphones and other internet-connected devices often leads to or exacerbates underage gambling. Thankfully, you can take advantage of free usage-limiting apps to control how much time your child spends on their devices.
For instance, you can use Apple OS features to set app limits, screen time limits, and other parental controls on iPads and iPhones. Similarly, you can use Google Family Link to manage app usage and set screen limits on Android-run smartphones.
– Download and install parental control software in your child’s device
There are a ton of useful and mostly free parental control software programs available today. Here are the most popular ones:
- KidLogger – This is one of the most robust parent control programs around. It shows the history of web visits, app usage on Apple, Windows, and Android devices, and how long your kid is using a desktop computer.
- Net Nanny – As you can infer from the name, this software tracks your child’s screen time and online habits. It also uses AI to protect your kid’s online browsing, including search, app use, and so on.
- My Mobile Watchdog – This is a parental control service that helps log your child’s app use, contacts, text messages, and website visits. It can also help you block sites and apps.
- Kaspersky Safe Kids – You probably recognize Kaspersky as one of the leading antivirus software companies. It also offers parental control software for Mac, PC, iOS, Windows, and Android devices. Plus, you can block sites and control access to mobile apps and games.
- Qustodio – If you’re looking for real-time parental control and child digital activity monitoring software, look no further than Qustodio. The app works on all devices, including Windows, Apple, Kindle, Android, and iOS.
– Use ISP parental control apps
Most carriers and home ISP enable households to set parental controls and limit screen time usage for their children. For example, you can use Purchase Blocker from AT&T to disable in-app purchases, in-game purchases, and so on. You can also use the Secure Family app from AT&T to block gambling apps and websites.
Likewise, the Comcast ISP family offers an Xfinity Xfi app for parental control and monitoring online fraud. Verizon has Family Safeguards and Controls for the same purpose. Other ISP apps to look out for include Spectrum’s Security Suite and Frontier app.