Online gambling opponents often portray Internet betting as particularly dangerous, using terms like “click your mouse, lose your house” to suggest that individuals can suddenly run up huge debts after becoming addicted to the games.
But a new study out of Australia questions these claims, saying that there might not be anything particularly harmful about Internet gambling after all.
A study by Dr. Sally Gainsbury of Southern Cross University in Australia found that “internet gambling does not cause gambling problems in, and of, itself,” suggesting that there are fewer unique problems with online gambling than suggested by many.
That’s not to say that Internet gambling can’t be an outlet for those with gambling problems to spend even more money, but it isn’t at the root of the problem in most cases.
Problem Gamblers May Turn to the Internet to Gamble More
In particular, Gainsbury found that most gambling problems first appeared in live gambling, after which the problem gamblers would migrate to the Internet for more action.
That suggests that it isn’t the availability of online gambling sites that caused the problems in the first place.
“Evidence is emerging that Internet gambling is not only not predictive of gambling problems,” Gainsbury wrote, “but that when other variables are controlled for individuals who gamble, online may have lower rates of gambling problems.”
Operators Could Be Key to Identifying Problems
Gainsbury’s study also took time to look into other aspects of gambling in order to see what worked and what didn’t when it came to reducing problem gambling.
For instance, she found that operators may be able to develop tools to recognize individuals with potential problems based on their interactions with the sites.
“Analysis of customer communication with online operators identified risk markers that predicted customers closing their accounts due to stated gambling problems,” she wrote.
“These included expressed doubts about results of games, requests for account reopening, queries about financial transactions and account administration, the frequency of contacts per month, and use of a threatening tonality.”
Gainsbury’s study was undertaken in order to find out how online gambling games, including free social games, impacted Australians and gamblers in general. In particular, she was concerned that free play games could normalize gambling, eventually leading to real money gambling.
“They’re free to play, there are no regulations, they can be accessed by anyone including underage people and the concern is that they’re making gambling seem like an everyday activity, something that’s harmless fun,” Gainsbury said last October.
Regulation, Bans Don’t Impact Levels of Problem Gambling
One part of Gainsbury’s report suggested that the amount of online gambling regulation in a country didn’t have a direct impact on how much problem gambling occurred in a given country.
“An analysis across 30 European jurisdictions failed to identify any association between prohibitions against online gambling, gambling licensing systems, the extent of legal gambling opportunities and the prevalence of gambling disorder,” she reported.
Conclusions such as these could have an impact on debates over online gambling regulation, such as those taking place in the United States today.
Opponents often suggest that allowing online gambling would cause an increase in gambling disorders, and that prohibitions could prevent this; supporters instead say that Internet gambling (and any associated problems) will occur even if a ban is in place, and regulation is preferable as it provides oversight and consumer protections for players.