Net loss? A brief overview of online gambling

Last month, Daria Kuss and I published a systematic review of the world wide online gambling literature (2001-2011). The aim of our literature review was to highlight the research that had examined (i) Internet gambling behaviour and (ii) Internet gambling addiction. A total of 39 studies met our inclusion criteria (i.e., the study included primary empirical data, was published in a peer reviewed journal after 2000, and specifically addressed gambling on the Internet). Based on previous research we argued that a combination of individual, situational and structural characteristics would determine whether and to what extent individuals engaged in Internet gambling. Our review attempted to review which characteristics were most important based on the empirical evidence to date.

Individual characteristics include things such as socio-demographic variables, attitudes and motivations. In terms of socio-demographics related to internet gambling, being male, of young age, single (i.e., not in a stabe relationship), and being of higher education were associated with gambling on the Internet. With regards to attitudes, opinions in the published research studies diverged; some viewed Internet gambling as more dangerous than land-based gambling, whereas for others, it was preferable due to anonymity. The motivations reported, for the most part, related to enjoyment and social activities.

Situational characteristics consist of the physical and social environments Internet gamblers are in when they gamble. The studies we reviewed indicated that situational characteristics (i) have an impact on the ways in which people gamble including the stakes they set and (ii) are likewise impacted by the ways in which people gamble on the Internet. However, it must be noted that research into the situational characteristics associated with pathological gambling on the Internet is still relatively scarce compared to studies assessing the structural characteristics. Therefore, in order to present a comprehensive picture of Internet gambling addiction, future research may be informed by particularly addressing the physical and social environments in which gambling on the Internet occurs.

Structural characteristics comprise both the technology of the Internet itself and the gambling types and behaviors that can be performed within it. The former also incorporates the factors that differentiate online gambling from land-based gambling, such as anonymity, convenience and access, levels of trust, gambling-reinforcing factors, and implemented safeguards. The latter addresses the specific types of games that are played online, and the ways in which different people can engage in their preferred gambling activities on the Internet. In sum, relative to situational characteristics, a large amount of research has been conducted specifying and investigating the structural characteristics of the Internet with regards to online gambling. Such studies have examined the technology of the Internet as enabling gambling relative to land-based venues as well as ways in which gambling on the Internet is reinforced

From those who gambled online, a minority appeared to develop a problem and/or an addiction to Internet gambling. With regards to the reported prevalence of Internet gambling addiction, the results of the various studies varied substantially. Of Internet users, 12-23% appeared to have online gambling problems, whereas 5-20% were found to be pathological gamblers. Student Internet gamblers, on the other hand, had higher prevalence rates suggesting that 18-77% suffer from pathological gambling online. Medical and dental patients also fell within higher ranges with approximately 66% gambling online in a pathological way. Finally, the prevalence rates for adolescents suggested that between 8% and 25% of those who gambled on the Internet were problematic gamblers. However, most of the survey studies had major methodological limitations.

Firstly, a large majority of studies included in our review did not comprise samples that were representative of the general population (i.e., self-selected samples were mostly used). As a consequence, this limits the external validity of results. (In fact, only two pieces of published research have used a large representative national sample – the two most recent British Gambling Prevalence Surveys – see one of my previous blogs concerning the implications of the online gambling data from the latest BGPS findings). Secondly, the methodologies applied to assess Internet gambling addiction were diverse and researchers used a number of different classifications. Thirdly, the reliance on self-reports brought into question the reliability of the reported findings. A solution to this problem may be to include significant others of problem/pathological gamblers in determining whether and to what extent the latter’s gambling behaviours can be classified as being clinically relevant.

Despite these shortcomings, it appears that in general, the results supported the prevalence estimates for land-based pathological gamblers, indicating that the prevalence of pathological gambling was higher in adolescents and college students. The dissimilarity of findings for prevalence rates may therefore be related to (i) measures and conceptualizations, (ii) cut-off points, and (iii) samples used. Valid comparisons are only possible when similar diagnostic tools for problem and pathological gambling are used. Future researchers are therefore advised to conduct cross-cultural studies in order to control for the effect of culture on pathology status.

With regards to specific risk factors for the development of pathological gambling online, it appears that those identified in our literature review were very similar to the results of other studies concerned with land-based pathological gambling. Specifically, the findings that Asian and African ancestry and substance abuse increase the odds for pathological gambling as did the number of gambling types engaged in, and the frequency of gambling. Furthermore, the results with regards to specific personality and socio-demographic characteristics as well as mood status associated with pathological Internet gambling were in line with the findings regarding pathological gambling. More specifically, we found that impulsivity, younger age, male gender, emotional distress, being single, and having higher rates of depression and maladaptive coping, were associated with both online and land-based pathological gambling.

Based on the results of the studies reviewed, gambling on the Internet appeared to be associated with problematic gambling more than land-based gambling is. A reason for this may be the structural characteristics of the Internet inherent to this technology, namely availability, ease of access, anonymity, and convenience. In line with this, the Canadian researchers Robert Wood and Richard Williams point out that although “Internet gambling is an exacerbating rather than a causal factor for most problem gamblers who gamble on the Internet, the nature of online gambling still makes it inherently more problematic than most other forms of gambling”. Therefore, the prevalence of problematic gambling among Internet gamblers is likely to be higher than in land-based gamblers. Therefore, the Internet cannot be claimed to be addictive per sé, but rather to facilitate the engagement in addictive behaviours, such as gambling. Future research is needed to highlight the addictive potential of other Internet applications in addition to gambling. This will inform both prevention efforts and potential treatment modalities.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Additional input from Daria J. Kuss (Nottingham Trent University)

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gambling addiction on the Internet. In K. Young & C. Nabuco de Abreu (Eds.), Internet Addiction: A Handbook for Evaluation and Treatment. pp. 91-111. New York: Wiley.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? pp. 277-292. New York: Prometheus Books.

Griffiths, M.D., Parke, J. & Derevensky, J. (2011). Online gambling among youth: Cause for concern? In J.L. Derevensky, D.T.L. Shek & J. Merrick (Eds.), Youth Gambling: The Hidden Addiction (pp. 125-143). Berlin: DeGruyter.

Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2009). Socio-demographic correlates of internet gambling: findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 199-202.

Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2011). Internet gambling, health. Smoking and alcohol use: Findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 1-11.

Kuss, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012).  Internet gambling behavior. In Z. Yan (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Cyber Behavior (pp.735-753). Pennsylvania: IGI Global.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling.  In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.211-243. New York: Elsevier.

Wardle, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Defining the ‘online gambler’: The British perspective. World Online Gambling Law Report, 10(2), 12-13.

Wardle, H., Moody, A., Griffiths, M.D., Orford, J. & and Volberg, R. (2011). Defining the online gambler and patterns of behaviour integration: Evidence from the British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. International Gambling Studies, 11, 339-356.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. In 2013, he was given the Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 800 research papers, five books, over 150 book chapters, and over 1500 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 3500 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on March 16, 2012, in Addiction, Adolescence, Cyberpsychology, Gambling, Gambling addiction, Gender differences, Internet gambling, Online addictions, Popular Culture, Problem gamblng, Psychology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. bestonlinegamblingblog

    Online gambling allows players to gamble from home whilst connected to the internet by gambling on their personal computer. This is amazing seeing that you don’t have to drive to your favourite land-based casino and that you don’t have to wait for games to be vacant any more.

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  2. Pingback: Trust is a must: The role of trust, personalization and context in online gambling - Full Time Betting Blog

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