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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Nurturing gambling literacy in youth

Mahboubeh Asgari, PhD, and Trudy Norman, PhD

Reprinted from the "Problem Gambling and Video Gaming" issue of Visions Journal, 2018, 14 (2), p. 37

Today, children are exposed to gambling more than ever before. They see gambling images almost every day—from the corner store that sells lottery tickets, to movie, online and TV ads for the local casino, to free-to-play mobile gambling-themed apps. Gambling is often depicted as glamorous and exciting and, potentially, a profitable career.

Over the past few years, the line between gaming and gambling has gradually become blurred. Children may begin gambling because they see it as a form of entertainment or leisure—a kind of game. Betting on culturally approved sports like hockey, for example, can seem almost patriotic. The near-universal presence of gambling activities like 50/50 draws in family-friendly environments can lead children to see gambling as a normal part of life. In fact, gambling is accepted in cultures around the world, including some of the immigrant communities in British Columbia.

In some families and communities, recreational gambling can bring relatives and friends together, adding excitement and joy to relationships. Wagering small amounts of money on a hand of cards or on the outcome of a sporting event can add to the enjoyment of a family fun night. Responsible recreational gambling can help children learn the rules of the game and test out strategies while sharing the thrill of safe competition. A child’s focus, memory, assessment and problem-solving skills can improve as well. Moreover, children have the opportunity to learn about when and how much to risk.

Equipping our children with the knowledge and skills to make responsible choices is fundamental to their good decision-making. We cannot protect our children by protecting them from risk all the time. What we can do instead is help our children develop the skills and strategies to take risks more responsibly—in gambling and in life. We do this by opening a dialogue with them about the potential benefits and harms of gambling; we can share with them our concerns and answer their questions in a safe and comfortable environment.

The Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) has developed a suite of learning resources under the brand name iMinds to help teachers facilitate open dialogue with young people about risk-taking, substance use and gambling. This article discusses the iMinds learning resources that focus on gambling.

The iMinds approach to gambling literacy

iMinds promotes a way of thinking, teaching and learning that encourages children to develop gambling literacy—that is, the knowledge and skills they will need to survive and thrive in a world where gambling is common and often promoted. The iMinds goal is to help students become more reflective and critical of the conflicting messages they are bombarded with every day. This can help children better understand the difference between opinion, fact and belief, and make better decisions for themselves, no matter how challenging the situation. Having discussions in a safe, supportive context helps nurture a balance of self-development, freedom and responsibility, necessary for healthy growth and well-being.

iMinds follows a humanistic model. Teaching and learning approaches focus on the whole student, building individual capacity to ask good questions and make good decisions—not only when it comes to gambling, but in other areas, too. Through the lessons and instructional materials, students are encouraged to question their gambling-related beliefs, attitudes and behaviours by engaging in honest, thoughtful discussions and relevant exercises that ground learning in familiar activities. For example, iMinds uses simple dice games to encourage students to consider how probability works and to learn skills to manage risk—in games of chance and in other areas of life.

iMinds in the classroom

The iMinds resources have been developed with current BC curriculum design in mind. Teachers will be familiar with the iMinds focus on “big ideas” (the key concepts that students explore together) and core “competencies” (the specific skills and strategies that an educated student is expected to be able to practise and employ).1

iMinds tackles several big ideas in its gambling resources, including the following:

  • Every human society has accepted gambling, legal or otherwise, in one form or another

  • Gambling can be a fun recreational activity but it can also lead to significant harm

  • As human beings, both individually and in our communities, we need to learn how to manage our gambling behaviours responsibly

  • We can learn how to responsibly manage our gambling by examining the different ways people have thought about it, engaging in creative thinking and critical self-reflection and listening to each other

Because iMinds encourages inquiry without imposing content that must be memorized, the learning resources can be easily adapted to many subject areas, including social studies, math, language arts and science. Teachers are encouraged to incorporate examples that are familiar to students—from contemporary social issues (such as the stigma around gambling and substance use, poverty and wealth in their communities, and the socially accepted practices of buying lottery tickets and playing the stock market) to familiar pop cultural standards (music video clips, movies and books). For example, students are likely to engage in a meaningful discussion of gambling and risk-taking that considers themes from Suzanne Collins’ popular young-adult novel The Hunger Games, in which the characters live constantly in an environment of extreme risk-taking and games of chance, and where the ominous benediction “May the odds be ever in your favour” is a common refrain.

Instructional materials that incorporate bingo-like activities provide opportunities for meaningful discussions about our emotional responses in competitive gambling contexts. The discussions that stem from these lessons and the skills that students learn to manage their emotional responses in these highly charged environments are transferable and can help students manage similar feelings in their daily lives.

Teachers also enjoy the fact that iMinds does not require them to have expertise on the topics of gambling and drugs. With iMinds, the role of the teacher is not to provide all the answers. Instead, teachers create the context of inquiry and then explore ideas and issues with their students.

iMinds beyond the classroom

While the iMinds learning resources focus on gambling and substance use, the critical skills that students develop in the classroom serve them outside the classroom as well, where risk-taking and decision-making are things we all face on a daily basis to varying degrees.

The iMinds instructional materials encourage students to think critically about gambling as a potential source of reward and difficulty. With multiple opportunities to consider the harms and benefits of gambling and to develop skills to manage their feelings and behaviour, students build their gambling literacy and can begin to apply their newly acquired skills in their daily life. In this way, iMinds provides a safe environment to learn about and practise responsible risk-taking, setting the foundation for a new generation of responsible risk-taking individuals.

iMinds lessons and resources are available for free at

About the author

Mahboubeh is a research associate at the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR), based at the University of Victoria, and the project lead for iMinds Drug Education. She is involved in developing an online gambling health promotion resource in collaboration with the BC Responsible & Problem Gambling Program. You can find the site at

Trudy is a research associate with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) Knowledge Exchange unit. She is a contributor to an educational online gambling resource that CISUR developed for the BC government

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