The largest study of its type, “Interactive Gambling” commissioned by Gambling Research Australia has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to link online gambling with an increase in problem gambling.
The study was the most comprehensive carried out in Australia, and its authors believe the most comprehensive ever, anywhere. Over 15,000 telephone interviews, 4,500 online surveys and 50 personal interviews with gamblers went into collecting the data which included responses from 31 gamblers who had sought help for gambling addiction.
The “Doomswitch” is Reality for Over a Third of Gamblers
The report is redolent with interesting and intriguing statistical information, and includes the results of a comprehensive literature review summarizing the results obtained by research from around the world.
A belief in the “doomswitch” is widely prevalent. 37.6% of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “online gambling sites have an on/off switch that can turn the software in favor of the operator.”
25.5% of online poker players only played online, with the remainder also playing live poker in casinos. Online players reported an average loss in the last month of $2, whereas live players reported that they had won an average of $50.
Internet Gambling Does Not Increase Gambling Problems but it Might in the Future
Although the report was guarded in its conclusions, the authors stated that “there is currently insufficient evidence to conclude that interactive gambling is causing higher levels of gambling problems.” The added caveat, “it is possible that related problems might increase over time with increased participation,” suggested that this may not be as reassuring as it appears.
One of the factors which the report used to reach this conclusion was that “for a substantial proportion of interactive gamblers experiencing difficulties, these problems are related to non‐interactive modes.” In other words the problem starts with a live gambling experience before the player starts to bet online.
The concern that internet gambling could increase problem gambling despite the study’s findings is identified as resulting from its “convenience and ease of access, ability to play in private, high speed continuous gambling, player incentives and advertising, and the immersive nature of the Internet.”
Poker Players at Lower Risk than Most
Poker is listed as being one of the forms of gambling which has the lowest risks for the development of pathological gambling problems—only two of the 31 problem gamblers interviewed were poker players.
A distinction was made between online and live poker. 9.8% of online poker players reported feeling like they had a problem with gambling “almost always” compared to 4.8% of non-internet poker players.
An audit of casino and poker sites serving the Australian market showed that less than half “presented a link to a responsible gambling page or to treatment services and only seven sites provided a link to a self‐assessment tool.”
Overall, the report makes a positive contribution to the current Australian debate on regulating online gambling. Last December, Prime Minister Tony Abbott promised to “implement stronger restrictions on online gambling.” This was widely interpreted to be a precursor to starting the process of regulating internet gambling which was recommended in a government report released last March.