Gambling Addiction and Problem Betting Influenced by Online Casinos?

Mar 08

Looking at the biggest recent studies regarding online gambling, advertising it and the connection to problem gambling or addiction. Information from research shows that players are likely to play more only when new options become available for the first time but that communities adapt and the long-term results are more beneficial than banning online gambling or just focusing on land-based casinos.

Gambling addiction is a major subject for discussion nowadays and it is the go-to argument for online gambling opposition, which often time presents scenarios in which players are unable to control themselves and lose all their money on the internet. The issue got very loud across the United States as Sheldon Adelson and many opponents of legalizing online gambling in the country came up with similar allegations.

The truth however seems to have been completely ignored despite the fact that online gambling has been legalized in various countries around the world and has shown an actual improvement in the communities when it comes to preventing problem gambling and offering help to those in need of it. Several new studies show exactly how the “Sheldon Adelson argument” is flawed and how banning online gambling is not a good long-term solution given the fast growing industry.

We should mention right from the start that problem gambling is a serious condition and should not be taken likely. It is very important to gamble responsibly every time and enjoy the games for what they are – ways of entertainment.

Studies from the Harvard Medical School

The Division on Addiction at the Harvard Medical School has been looking into gambling addiction for quite some time now and it recently released a series of studies created around the growth of internet gambling and its effects on the general player pool.

The main study used information from millions of online gamblers through some of the biggest operators in the industry, with being among the biggest participants. The duration of the study lasted for two years and the findings were coordinated with another study made by the University of Hamburg, although this one only focused on online poker.

Once everything was completed, the report showed that 95% of gamblers enjoyed casino games infrequently and in moderation, while the median player only placed bets once every two weeks. The average losses in this region on the graph were at about 6% of the total bankroll available in the respective accounts.

Sports bettors were found to place more bets and out of the 40,000 users studied, the average was about once every four days and they placed an average number of 2.5 bets worth $5.50.

For online poker, the studies showed that players spent a bit less than five hours at the virtual tables every week on average and they lost less than one dollar each hour in tournament fees or cash table rake.

Where it gets interesting is that only 1-5% of the gamblers involved in the study showed any intense gambling signs that could be classified as symptoms of addiction. Some of the researchers even added that the prevalence of pathological gambling has remained pretty much the same over the past three decades despite the fact that it has become a lot easier for people to access their preferred betting options through online gambling.

There were some short-term spikes in gambling frequency when options became available for the first time in certain markets but they averaged out over a short period of a few weeks and players reversed to the norm once they became accustomed to having the opportunity to gamble over the internet.

Overall, the studies showed that the number of addicted and problem gamblers resulting from online casinos is not bigger than the one resulted from any other type of gambling on a land-based scale. Furthermore, data would suggest the fact that local betting shops are actually mode addictive than playing on the internet and players who have problems managing their bankrolls in a responsible manner are more likely to go to their local store and bet. This may be due to the familiarity one gets over several visits, the community and other factors which are not as prevalent on the internet.

As far as actual numbers go, a report released by The Economist last year showed that out of $475 billion lost on gambling in 2013 around the world, only 7% was lost by players at online casinos, and this includes online poker.

Research by the University of Buffalo

The Research Institute of Addictions at the University of Buffalo released studies last year that further back the claims that online gambling is not, as Sheldon Adelson put it, the “crack cocaine for gamblers”.

The study was called Problem Gambling – A Decade of Change and it was designed to measure the change over the last decade by comparing the responses from a recently done telephone survey to the ones obtained from a similar survey in the year 2000. Since the growth of internet gambling has seen a vast increase over the years, Dr. John Welte and his crew set off to cover five main goals:

  • Determine the trends regarding gambling behavior / problem gambling since the 2000 survey.
  • See if problem gambling is now a bigger issue in the states which have forms of legalized internet gambling.
  • Examine relationships between problem gambling trends, alcohol and drugs, while comparing them to the results from 2000.
  • See if any specific gambling problems appeared among online users with access to fantasy football betting and poker.
  • Test a model of risk based on several levels for gambling involvement in order to see if it could be applied.

The research revealed the fact that having an increased availability for gambling opportunities didn’t lead to a bigger number of problem gamblers and also that US residents are now gambling less often than they were more than a decade ago.

By comparing the two surveys, Dr. Welte determined that there was no major statistical change for problem gambling or addiction since it remained in the range of 3.5-5.5%, while the pathological gambling numbers also remained between 1-2.4%.

The interesting part is that while opportunity and availability increased significantly since 2000, the participation rates actually dropped from 82.2% to 76.9% of the people who took part in the survey. These figures represent the percentage who took part in at least one form of gambling within the past 12 months.

Those who did play, played less since the average number of days with at least one bet placed went down to 53.7 days a year from 59.9 days.

Other studies performed by Dr. Welte at the University showed that people who lived close to a land-based casino were almost two times more likely to develop problem gambling symptoms. The question was asked regarding the results from the recent study and the fact that more casinos have been built and that internet gambling basically makes everyone live close to a casino and why the numbers remained the same.

The doctor offered to speculative answers. One of them was based on the economic situation that took place and forced people to be more careful with their money, while the other was formed around the “theory of adaptation”. While people who are initially exposed to something new (gambling opportunities) are more likely to try them out and even abuse them, leading to problems, the population will adapt in time and the negative consequences will decrease as a result.

Easier Access to Help

Despite of what many would like us to believe, online gambling is actually making the industry a better place and not only does it show a decrease in the number of addicted players, but it actually helps prevent and treat it.

Online casinos often times advise their customers to gamble responsibly and always make sure to not bet over the limit. While land-based casinos are designed to keep players inside for as long as possible and make them lose track of time, online casinos will even pop notifications encouraging the users to take a break after long sessions.

The stigma attached to gambling has decreased over the years and this is also due to the growth of the internet sector since more people got the chance to see firsthand that the games are not addictive to the average person. There is also the reputation attached to land-based stores and the people who frequent them that can discourage potential new players to try out some of the games.

For those who actually start to see signs of problem gambling, be it in their personal lives or in their bank accounts, help is literally just a few clicks away.

Regulations and Online Gambling Controls

The introduction of online gambling in New Jersey showed a lot of promise in the US, but also across the world, as it was carefully observed throughout the entire process. Since online casinos are only allowed to accept players from within the state borders, there were some limitations enforced which verified their location and age at all times. With a good period of several months of activity in the state, there hasn’t been any report of under-age users accessing the New Jersey gaming websites.

The available system also allows players to self-exclude and just deny access from their computers or set a loss limit so that the casinos will simply stop accepting their bets once they have lost a certain amount of money. And it is not just in the hands of the customers to take measures and the websites themselves can monitor players and gambling habits in order to take action if dangerous gambling levels are ever reached.

Moving over the ocean and we see similar measures taken by commissions in order to make sure that while online gambling is legal, it is still monitored and regulations are in place for everyone in order to help those few who can fall victim to betting addiction. In the United Kingdom, the new regulatory body that went live late last year has already showed a lot of potential and operators have even formed an alliance to take things one step further.

A group formed by some of the biggest betting companions in the UK is setting the bar higher by taking their own preventive measures. These include not showing ads during the day and not mentioning bonus offers on the windows of their local stores.

Advertising Effects on Gambling Problems

The Gambling Review done by the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice and the Committee of Advertising Practice in the UK was released in December 2014 and showed that despite the significant increase in gambling advertising since 2005, the available regulations in the country are satisfactory since they have little effect on gambling problems.

The review shows the fact that gambling ads are effective but that they do not cause players to bet more than they are comfortable with or encourage underage gambling. In addition, the Gambling Act of 2005 remains valid and useful in protecting children.

However, the UK Gambling Commission assured customers that it will remain vigilant and make sure that the regulations in place allow for players to enjoy their favorite options in freedom but at the same time provide the much needed structure and body of regulations.

The Conclusion

All things considered, it is safe to say that online gambling does not result in more problems and addiction. Contrary to what opposition to legalizing might advertise, the internet gambling industry is actually helping players through regulations, options to opt out willingly and help always available for those who need it.