Internet technology has transformed many aspects of our lives and had a profound effect on mental health, for better and for worse. Internet gambling is accessed virtually, through computers, tablets and mobile devices, and gaming consoles, at any time or place, without any limits or disruptions. Although research is still chasing technological developments and regulation is even further behind, we are gaining an understanding of how Internet technology is impacting gambling problems.
People gamble online for the availability and convenience of this mode of access, as well as the potential for greater payouts and gambling options, and ease of use. A notable proportion of Internet gamblers think it is easier to spend money online and that Internet gambling is more addictive than land-based forms. People who gamble online are more likely to experience gambling-related problems, with the prevalence of gambling problems three-times higher among Internet than land-based gamblers in the latest Australian national survey.
However, gambling online is not specifically indicative of gambling problems, but rather the entire extent of gambling is related to problems. That is, people who gamble online, offline, and engage in many types of gambling are more likely to have problems. Internet gambling problems are also more common among those with other health and mental health comorbidities, including drug and alcohol use. Younger adults, males, and those from a diverse cultural background appear to be at greatest risk of experiencing Internet gambling problems.
Gambling is changing rapidly and people can now gamble in augmented and virtual reality, through video games, simulated gambling games, and with virtual credits and cryptocurrency. Internet gambling is changing the way people gamble. Online sports bettors are more likely to be at-risk for or experience problems than offline sports bettors. Combined with the greater number of youth gambling online suggests that we may start seeing a new cohort of problem gamblers, moving away from pokies being the primary cause of problems and focus of most regulatory attention.
Internet gambling may remain hidden until problems are too severe to conceal. It is essential that health professionals start screening for any gambling engagement, including online gambling, and encourage gamblers to set spending and time limits or exclude themselves from gambling sites to minimize harms. Online help and self-help options are also available and treatment providers should learn more about online gambling to be able to assist clients.
By Dr. Sally Gainsbury, Deputy Director, Gambling Treatment Clinic & Responsible Gambling Research Group, & Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology, The University of Sydney