Online gambling refers to activities undertaken through Internet connected devices such as desktop computers, tablets and mobile phones. Various forms of online gambling exist, including sports wagering, casino games such as poker and blackjack, bingo, lottery tickets, and keno. Some countries have banned or restricted the growth of online gambling, while others are more liberal in their approach to the industry. Online Gambling is not without risk, however, and can have serious consequences for the gambler and their families.
Despite the increased availability of online gambling, few studies examine the association between online gambling and problem gambling. Many of the available studies are cross-sectional in design and therefore do not allow for causality to be determined. Additionally, self-reporting by gamblers on their involvement in online gambling is prone to error and subject to social desirability bias.
One study that did examine this relationship found that Internet gambling was a proximal cause of problem gambling for some participants, with around half specifically attributing their problems to this mode of gambling. This finding is consistent with results from other studies that find a link between Internet gambling and problems, but the majority of research on the topic remains cross-sectional, making it difficult to determine causality and reliant on accurate self-report by gamblers.
Involvement in Internet gambling has also been linked to poorer well-being, and particularly with depression. This may be due to the high rates of impulsivity associated with online gambling, or to the impact of internet gambling on social relationships and family life.
A study that analyzed messages posted to an online gambling forum by concerned significant others of gamblers found that this was often the first source of help that they sought. The main reasons for doing so were to share their experiences with others who had similar issues and to seek peer support. It was also a more private way to seek help than discussing problems with family and friends.
Online communities are also useful for helping gamblers to maintain their recovery. A study that compared recovery strategies reported by online and offline gamblers found that those who had participated in an online community were more likely to be in treatment or have maintained abstinence than those who did not participate in an online community.
Other issues that may contribute to the development of online gambling include the ability to deposit money using cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, which are not legally recognized as currency. This can lead to fraudulent practices such as gnoming, wherein multiple accounts are used to lose deliberately at head-to-head poker tables, and chip dumping, whereby players dump their chips into an opponent’s account to gain advantages. In addition, Internet gambling can be addictive and result in disrupted sleep and eating patterns. For these reasons, it is important that responsible gambling initiatives are designed and implemented for this growing audience of vulnerable players. These should include brief online interventions, as well as in-depth online treatment programmes.