Online Gambling Presents Least Risk for Addiction, Study Finds

Gambling disorder is the only form of non-substance-based behavioral addiction with an official definition provided by the American Psychiatric Association. Affected individuals have an established, dysfunctional pattern of gambling involvement. Modern technology has increased the availability of gambling opportunities for the average consumer, and online gambling is now an option for fairly large numbers of people. In a study published in September 2014 in the journal Addictive Behaviors, researchers from two Australian universities compared the relative gambling disorder risks associated with participation in gambling at physical locations to the risks associated with gambling virtually over the Internet.

Gambling Disorder

People with gambling disorder have at least four out of a possible nine symptoms of problematic, dysfunctional gambling involvement. These symptoms (which must appear together within the span of a single year) include using increasingly risky gambling as a source of excitement, repeatedly failing to rein in gambling participation, using gambling to offset unwanted emotions or moods, returning to gambling shortly after losing significant amounts of money, having a preoccupation with gambling when not actively participating in a gambling activity, hiding gambling involvement from others, experiencing withdrawal-like changes in mood while not gambling, using other people’s resources to fund gambling participation and exposing oneself to seriously negative personal or social outcomes as a result of gambling. Mildly affected individuals have four or five symptoms, while moderately affected individuals have six or seven. Severely affected people have eight or nine symptoms of gambling disorder. The American Psychiatric Association classifies gambling disorder as an addictive disorder; in addition to behavioral addiction, an equivalent term for this type of non-substance-related condition is process addiction.

Gambling Venues and Types

Gambling traditionally takes place in physical locations such as casinos, clubs, bars and betting parlors. Common types of gambling available at these locations include electronic slot machines, mechanical slot machines, roulette, blackjack, poker and betting on horse races. Another major form of gambling is sports betting, which requires participants to bet money on the outcomes of amateur or professional athletic events. With the advent of widespread access to the Internet, gambling now commonly takes place through virtual venues maintained at various websites. Most Internet venues provide access to games that closely resemble the games played at physical locations or to sports betting opportunities. In many jurisdictions in the U.S., gambling is illegal, regardless of the form it takes. Despite this fact, companies and private individuals frequently continue to host gambling activities.

Does the Venue Affect the Risk?

In the study published in Addictive Behaviors, researchers from Australia’s Southern Cross University and University of Sydney used an online survey of 4,594 gamblers to gauge the impact that gambling venue has on the odds that any given person will develop gambling problems. All of the study participants submitted information on the gambling outlets they accessed in the previous year, as well as information on the types of gambling they preferred. Some of the participants only gambled at physical locations, while others only gambled over the Internet. A third group of study participants gambled over the Internet and at physical locations. The researchers used screening tools to gauge each person’s level of risk for problematic gambling.

After completing their work, the researchers concluded that people who gamble online and gamble at physical locations participate in the widest range of gambling types and also have higher risks for problematic gambling behaviors than their counterparts who only gamble online or only gamble at physical locations. The group with the second largest overall risk for gambling problems is people who only gamble at physical locations. People who only gamble over the Internet typically have the lowest risks for developing gambling disorder.

The study’s authors noted a number of additional differences between the three groups of gamblers. For instance, people who only gamble at physical locations are generally older than their counterparts in the other two groups. Conversely, people who gamble online and in person are generally younger. In addition, people who only gamble at physical locations tend to play slot machines and other electronic games, while people who only gamble online tend to bet on sports and various types of races. Overall, the authors believe that their work underscores the need to consider the type of gambling venue involved when assessing any given person’s risks for developing diagnosable gambling problems.

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