Online Gambling and Problems

Gambling online has become increasingly popular, with many countries now offering regulated and licensed sites. However, the ability to place large wagers, continuous gambling and fast feedback has raised concerns that this mode of gambling may contribute to gambling problems. Additionally, the ability to gamble anonymously and without public visibility has raised concerns that online gambling may be an end-run around gambling laws and prohibitions.

In a study that analysed self-report data from over 1119 Internet gamblers, problem gamblers were found to be more likely than non-problem gamblers to engage in risk-taking behaviours such as drug use, smoking and alcohol consumption. Additionally, problem gamblers were more likely to report poor mood, low self-esteem and a desire for quick wins. The findings from this research highlight the need to develop a comprehensive approach to prevention, education and treatment of Internet gambling problems, including measures such as harm minimisation features and a national online self-exclusion programme.

Online gambling often involves in-game or in-app purchases, which can result in impulsive and excessive spending. These purchases can also provide a false sense of reward, encouraging addictive behavior. In addition, in-game or in-app purchases can drain a person’s bankroll and lead to financial distress and debt. In order to minimise the risks associated with online gambling, individuals should set limits on in-game and in-app purchases and avoid making impulsive decisions while playing.

Several studies have examined the relationship between online gambling and problems. Most have used cross-sectional designs, which do not allow for causality to be determined. Moreover, self-report is susceptible to recall and social desirability biases. Nevertheless, these studies have highlighted that, for some Internet problem gamblers, this mode of gambling appears to be the proximal cause of their problems, whereas others had existing problems that were exacerbated by online gambling.

Although a small proportion of Internet gamblers report gambling problems, it is important to note that most of those who report gambling problems do not seek help for their problem. This may be due to the stigma surrounding gambling disorders or a lack of awareness that help is available. It is vital to increase public awareness that gambling is a dangerous activity and people who have a problem should seek professional help.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) has classified disordered gambling as a behavioural addiction, thereby establishing a precedent for the inclusion of other behavioural addictions. In addition, it is crucial to enhance the provision of responsible gambling strategies by requiring operators to enable access to relevant data and implement policies and by regulating for safer online gambling products. This will require the cooperation of independent researchers to design and evaluate responsible gambling strategies, operators to establish and facilitate a system of data sharing, and regulators to enforce and require responsible gambling standards. It will also involve revisiting prevention and treatment strategies, ensuring that these are suitable for Internet gambling, and developing short and in-depth online gambling treatments and self-exclusion programmes.

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