In a study published in 2014 in the journal International Gambling Studies, researchers from the University of Nevada used data gathered from a project called the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Study to help determine if people who participate in online gambling are more likely than other gamblers to develop diagnosable gambling-related problems.s

Online Gambling

Technically speaking, any Internet activity that allows you to wager on a game of skill or a game of chance could potentially qualify as online gambling. In some cases, the game under consideration may require you to risk money and place real bets. In other cases, the game may have all the general features of a gambling situation except the need to place a monetary bet. Whether or not real bets are involved, the types of games found on the Internet largely mimic the games found in casinos and other physical gambling locations, including poker, roulette and slot machines.

Federal laws in the U.S. prohibit participation in online gambling that requires you to place real bets (largely by prohibiting banks and other financial institutions from handling wager-based transactions). However, as individual states seek out new sources of income in financially restrictive times, initiatives to change or work around federal mandates are growing more common. In many European countries (including the United Kingdom), online gambling is legal when conducted at sites regulated by the appropriate government agencies.

Gambling Disorder

Gambling disorder is the diagnosis now used in the U.S. to identify gambling problems severe enough to interfere with a person’s mental well-being or ability to lead a stable, productive personal, social, work or school life. The condition is officially designated by the American Psychiatric Association as a behavioral addiction or addictive disorder. This means that, even though they don’t have problems centered on drug or alcohol use, people affected by gambling disorder undergo some of the same involuntary brain changes and behavioral changes found in people diagnosed with a physical addiction to drugs or alcohol. Specific symptoms of the condition include loss of control over gambling participation, a driving need to gamble in exceptionally risky ways, gambling to avoid personal problems or disagreeable emotional states and exposure to strongly negative gambling consequences that fail to curb continued gambling involvement.

Does Online Gambling Increase Risks?

Online gambling participants regularly self-report a higher overall level of gambling problems than people who only gamble at physical locations. Despite this fact, researchers generally haven’t assembled enough evidence to know if such claims reflect reality. In addition, if diagnosable gambling problems do appear more often in online gamblers, researchers have very little evidence to help them determine if such a connection is mere statistical coincidence or an indication of an actual causal relationship.

In the study published in International Gambling Studies, the University of Nevada researchers used data collected from 7,756 participants in the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Study to explore the proposed link between Internet gambling and heightened risks for diagnosable gambling problems. All of these participants were adults or teenagers over the age of 15. Each individual answered detailed questions on his or her level of involvement in gambling in general and level of involvement in online gambling in particular. The researchers compared the answers to these questions to the outcomes of two measures used to identify diagnosable gambling problems: a slightly altered definition for such problems used by the American Psychiatric Association before 2013 and a common screening tool called the Problem Gambling Severity Index.

The researchers concluded that 92.7 percent of the study participants either didn’t gamble or didn’t report any type of gambling problem. They also concluded that 6.1 percent of the participants engaged in some form of online gambling. In addition, the researchers concluded that the online gamblers engaged in more types of gambling than their counterparts who gambled at physical locations. However, the researchers found that the online gambling participants actually had fewer indications of gambling problems than their counterparts who primarily gambled offline.

The study’s authors note that they used a secondary analysis of a group of gamblers from Canada to confirm their initial conclusions. Their findings lead them to believe that online gambling participation does not increase the average person’s risks for serious gambling problems.


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