To Scratch or not to Scratch? Lotto tickets a fun gift, but not for minors

The Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling (ECPG), Washington’s Lottery, and Washington State Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse are joining together to warn parents and adults that lottery tickets are not appropriate holiday gifts for children and teens under the age of 18.

“Some problem gamblers get their start as early as ages 10, 11, and 12, when impulse and attention control are extremely vulnerable,” said Rhonda Stone, ECPG community education coordinator. “There are significant developmental reasons why lottery games and all forms of gambling are prohibited for anyone under 18.”

It is illegal to sell Lottery tickets to minors in Washington State. Knowingly doing so is a misdemeanor and the Lottery will pursue evidence of illegal activity with local prosecutors.

“Lottery tickets are popular gifts during the holiday season-to be purchased by adults, for adults,” said Lottery Director Chris Liu. “Such gifts should only be given to adults 18 and over-who are mature enough to set limits and personal self controls.”

The pre-teen and teen years are a time of risk-taking and experimentation, says ECPG Executive Director Maureen Greeley.

“Many adults enjoy gambling activities responsibly for recreation and entertainment. Few are aware, however, that problem gambling can begin in adolescence,” she said.

In a recent discussion between a group of Washington teens and ECPG staff, most of the participating teens said that they were given their first lottery ticket by a parent.

Throughout the United States and Canada, state and provincial lotteries are joining state councils and the National Council on Problem Gambling ( to warn parents of the hazards associated with underage lottery gambling. Dr. Jeffrey Derevensky of the McGill Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviours in Montreal, Quebec, says researchers have documented that playing the lottery at a young age can increase the potential for problem gambling later in life. It is a serious concern, he notes, given that underage gambling is considered a “gateway” activity to other risk-taking behaviors, such as smoking, drinking, and drug use.

In Washington State, the Department of Social and Health Services’ Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse (DASA) has created an interactive Web site to help parents and teens better understand the risks associated with underage gambling. The Website is available 24/7 at Common forms of youth gambling include lottery tickets, sports betting, poker, and Internet sites where poker and slot-type games are paid for via credit card. The Washington State Gambling Commission cautions that Internet gambling is illegal throughout the U.S. It is not regulated for legitimacy and fairness and is subsequently operated either underground or in foreign countries. Parents are encouraged to view the Not A Game Website with their children and discuss the issues of risk-taking and healthy choices.

Signs of a youth gambling problem include:

• Showing off or hiding large sums of money

• Borrowing money from friends and family members

• Unexplained spending

• Stealing and/or embezzling

• Mood swings

• Secretiveness

• Lying

• Increasing amounts of time spent in gambling-related activities

• A shift in friends toward others who gamble

Teens and adults concerned about problem gambling are invited to call ECPG’s Washington State Problem Gambling Helpline at 1.800.547.6133. The Helpline is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will refer callers to counseling available in Washington State, including low- and no-fee services available for those who cannot afford it.

More information about problem gambling, including Gamblers Anonymous and GamAnon meetings available throughout Washington State, is available at