A new research paper questions the theory that online gambling is a more addictive form of gambling and suggests that gamblers who only gamble online actually display lower rates of problem gambling behavior.
The study, authored by Southern Cross researcher Dr. Sally Gainsbury, is titled Online Gambling Addiction: the Relationship Between Internet Gambling and Disordered Gambling (read it here). Gainsbury examined a mountain of gambling prevalence and problem gambling research to determine whether online gambling is in fact the express elevator to hell that groups like the Coalition to Stop internet Gambling would have people believe.
Many studies have found that internet gambling is linked with individuals who report problem gambling behavior but Gainsbury found that this was more likely due to problem gamblers utilizing a much broader spectrum of gambling options. Gainsbury found that once you accounted for demographic variables and the number of gambling formats utilized, “participation in internet gambling does not independently predict problem gambling severity.”
Gainsbury also found evidence to suggest that “individuals who gamble online may have lower rates of gambling problems.” Gamblers who exclusively wager online “have lower rates of gambling problems than gamblers who only gamble offline and those who use both online and offline modes.” Gamblers who engage in both online and offline modes “appear to have the greatest risks of harm,” but again, this is likely due to problem gamblers’ omnivorous approach.
Of online gamblers who reported problem gambling behavior, one-third to one-half attributed these problems to land-based forms of gambling. Furthermore, over half of these individuals say their problems existed long before they began gambling online.
Problem gamblers are known to have issues controlling their use of a host of non-gambling products and studies showed that “the clinical characteristics of internet problem gamblers are similar to offline gamblers.” But Gainsbury quoted studies that show offline gamblers were “more likely to report health and psychological impacts of problem gambling than internet gamblers.”
Gainsbury also noted an Australian study that showed online gamblers were “less likely to drink alcohol and smoke when they were gambling online than when gambling in land-based venues, indicating they were unlikely to be using internet modes to avoid restrictions on smoking or alcohol.”
While Gainsbury believes much more research is needed to arrive at firm conclusions, the available evidence suggests “internet gambling in itself is not harmful.” Moreover, the internet offers “a potentially strong environment for the provision of responsible gambling, including player-focused tools and resources for moderating play.” Gainsbury believes future research should consider “the broad spectrum of gambling behavior and how different patterns of gambling may be associated with the experience of gambling-related harm.”