Problem gambling among the young is an “emerging public health issue”, according to research for the industry watchdog.
Experts have blamed the recent liberalisation of gambling laws for the growing problem.
A report for the Gambling Commission showed that between five and seven per cent of young people are already classified as having gambling problems, while up to 14 per cent are at risk of developing them.
As much as 91 per cent of young people have experienced gambling at some point in their lives, the report said.
The report’s author, Gill Valentine, said gambling ads were often designed in a way that appealed to young people.
Earlier this year, a gambling ad was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority for targeting children. The regulator said it replicated the style of television programmes known to be popular with younger viewers.
The report also suggested internet gambling could be exacerbating the problem by providing anonymity for teenagers wishing to gamble without being caught.
Dr Emanuel Moran, specialist adviser on pathological gambling for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said gambling problems among under-18s could spiral with the relaxation of the laws.
He said: “The Government is trying to deal with it with a light touch but I very much fear we are going to see a disaster with a rise in the number of gambling addicts.”
A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport defended the recent change in the law: “The Gambling Act 2005 placed the protection of children and vulnerable people at the heart of gambling regulation for the first time.
“It established a robust new regulator and introduced key offences with tough penalties in relation to children.”
However, Conservative culture spokesman Jeremy Hunt said: “This is a shocking indictment of Labour’s laissez-faire attitude to gambling.
“If the Government were serious about tackling this alarming trend they should put a stop to it right now and make sure young people are properly protected.”