Teens who wager on card games like internet poker, buy lottery tickets or place bets on sports games could be at risk of becoming problem gamblers, Canadian pediatricians say.

The Canadian Pediatric Society warned of the dangers of teen gambling in a position statement Monday.

"If children are playing cards or dice games for money — even if it's with their family members — then they  are gambling," Dr. Jorge Pinzon, chair of the group’s adolescent health committee, said in a release.

"It seems harmless, but as kids get older, these behaviours can develop into more serious gambling  activities. And far too many youth develop problems with gambling."

Adolescents are two to four times more likely to have gambling problems than adults, the group says.

While it's normal for teens to experiment with risky behaviours like gambling, Pinzon said it can make them more vulnerable to developing a gambling problem.

The Canadian Pediatric Society recommendations include:

  • Governments and legislative bodies should assess the potential impact of advertising and new gambling offerings on youth.
  • Doctors should ask older children, especially adolescents, about gambling behaviours, especially when youth are engaging in other risky behaviour such as substance abuse.
  • Health care providers should suspect gambling behaviours when parents express concerns about a child's emotional health, grades start to slip, there are sleep problems, when money or possessions from home go missing or relationships are impaired.

"In this increasingly web-based and networked era, a new frontier has evolved and to date, the impact of new technology on this significantly 'risky business' has not been elucidated. Research into online gambling is needed to better support our youth, particularly males, who engage in this type of practice."

Children often start gambling with family members, such as buying lottery tickets, playing bingo for money or receiving scratch tickets as gifts. As they get older, they tend to play with their peers.

The great majority who gamble do so without problems, the group noted in its position paper on Monday.

Since most youth in North America say they gamble, including in studies from Quebec and Ontario, the report's authors said it is important to distinguish problem gambling.

Research suggests youth who gamble regularly — at least once a week — increase their risk of developing gambling-related problems.

Positive parenting serves as protective mechanism, with research pointing to more supervision and monitoring as helping to curb levels of gambling problems among adolescents.