A NEW generation of gamblers is becoming addicted to online pokies and card games as young teenagers.
Unregulated online gaming has spawned an emerging group of problem gamblers who are still too young to gamble legally.
Gambling help groups say there is a growing number of children, particularly those aged 14 to 17, who struggle with addiction.
Relationships Australia's Sunshine Coast manager, Sue Miller, said the number of high school gamblers was increasing.
"Sadly we're seeing more of a rise in youth gambling," Ms Miller said.
"The ages we're mainly looking at are high school age ... they're quite influential at those ages as well."
There have been few Australian-based studies into youth gambling but some have found more than 50% of teenagers have gambled and up to 15% of youths who gamble are at risk of developing a problem.
The use of internet gambling was not the most prominent, but an emerging area for concern.
Ms Miller said counsellors for Relationships Australia spoke regularly with school students about online trends, which include gambling games like Texas Hold 'Em Poker.
She said a severe lack of regulation meant underage teenagers could still take part.
And addiction "has to start somewhere", Ms Miller said.
"Addiction can be quite cruel and harsh," she said.
"Unless it's nipped in the bud it turns into bigger problems and leads to bigger debt.
"What the youths are telling us is that it's really easy - they are really tech savvy."
A report for the Australian Government Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs addressed the effects of online gambling on young people.
"In recent years, the incidence of underage gambling and its ability to lead to problem gambling behaviours at an early age has become a source of concern," the report said.
"It is estimated that between 80 and 90% of adolescents gamble in any given year, and that 10-15% of those who gamble are at risk of developing problem gambling."
Gamblers Anonymous can be contacted on 1800 002 210.
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