[Internet gambling: what are the risks?]

C Bonnaire
L'Encéphale 2012, 38 (1): 42-9

INTRODUCTION: Actually, there are many different and varied new ways to take part in gambling activities such as gambling via the Internet, mobile phone and interactive television. Among these media, the rise in Internet gambling activity has been very rapid. Nevertheless, few empirical studies have been carried out on the psychosocial effects of Internet gambling. While there is no conclusive evidence that Internet gambling is more likely than other gambling media to cause problem gambling, there are a number of factors that make online activities like Internet gambling potentially seductive and/or addictive. Such factors include anonymity, convenience, escape, dissociation/immersion, accessibility, event frequency, interactivity, disinhibition, simulation, and asociability. It would also appear that virtual environments have the potential to provide short-term comfort, excitement and/or distraction.

BACKGROUND: The introduction of the Internet to gambling activities changes some of the fundamental situational and structural characteristics. The major change is that gambling activities are bought into the home and workplace environment. Thus, Internet gambling can become an in-house or work activity. One of the major concerns relating to those changes and the increase in gambling opportunities is the potential rise in the number of problem and pathological gamblers. Addictions always result from an interaction and interplay between many factors but in the case of gambling, it could be argued that technology and technological advance can themselves be an important contributory factor as we saw in examining the salient factors in Internet gambling. It is difficult to determine the prevalence of online (problem or not) gamblers, as it is obviously a figure that changes and has changed relatively quickly over the past decade. Nevertheless, the rate of Internet gambling is increasing and some recent studies using self-selected samples suggest, for example, that the prevalence of problem gambling among student Internet gamblers is relatively high for students who gamble on the Internet in general.

LITERATURE FINDINGS: Some recent studies have focused on the type of online games. For example, one specific form of online gambling online poker, is one of the fastest growing forms of online gambling. It appears that problem online poker players are more likely to swap genders when playing online, and play more frequently for longer periods of time. Thus, problem gamblers may be losing time but winning money. This result has a big implication for problem gambling criteria. Indeed, some data suggest that online poker may be producing a new type of problem gambler where the main negative consequence is loss of time (rather than loss of money).

CONCLUSION: All these findings underline the need for better Internet gambling legislation. Indeed, the potential for excessive gambling and the lack of safeguards for vulnerable populations (e.g. adolescents and problem gamblers) raise the need for developing social responsibility tools. Harm-minimisation strategies are fundamental to facilitate gambling in a responsible manner, that is, to promote gambling within a player's means so they do not spent excessive time or money gambling, which cause the individual problems. Some research, but still few, examines the efficacy of responsible gambling strategies like pop-up messages.

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