A new study contradicts fears that an expansion of the online betting and casino industry would lead to more problem gambling.
It used to be that America was always one step ahead of everyone. Not when it comes to internet gambling, though. Over the past decade, the online and mobile casino industry has exploded in Europe, while the US hasn’t fully embraced this industry yet.
The “Land of Freedom” does not allow its citizens to spend their money on internet poker, slots, roulette, sports betting or any other virtual casino games, except in a few states – New Jersey, Delaware and Nevada. These three sates legalized online gambling to help increase their tax revenues and others have been considering following their example.
But critics and anti-casino campaigners have voiced concerns over the expansion of the gambling industry in America. They fear having all that at the tips of one’s fingers, just one click away, means everyone will have instant access to casinos, and this will eventually lead to more crimes and gambling addiction.
A recent survey by the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) might just prove them wrong.
More options does not mean more trouble
Legalizing internet gambling in the US would not have the devastating effects people have been worrying about, researchers concluded. During a first survey, between in 1999 and 2000, they interviewed 2,613 people. A second one, with a total of 2,963 subjects, followed a decade later between 2011 and 2013.
The subjects were asked about their gambling habits, as researchers were curious to find out how often they gamble and what types of games of chance they prefer.
So they came up with questions about a broad range of gambling activities including lottery, pool, raffles, office pools, bingo games, card games, slot machines, casinos, gambling on the internet, as well as betting on sports, horse races and dog races.
What they found was surprising: even though there was an increase in gambling opportunities over the years, the percentage of problem gamblers remained unchanged. Having more options does not mean gamblers will play more; it just means they will have a larger variety of products to choose from.
What exactly is problem gambling?
Since we’re talking about gambling addiction, let’s see what it actually looks like. Problem gamblers exhibit a number of symptoms which can be pretty hard to spot at the beginning. Their entire behavior changes, but this happens slowly and people often blame it on something else rather than their gambling habits.
When things slip out of control, people start to think more and more about gambling. They constantly feel the need to increase the size of their bets, to feed the thrill of gambling. It is not uncommon for them to lie – to themselves and to those around them – about being able to stop whenever they want to.
In their recent study, experts used a different criteria to establish how the variety of choices affects a gambler’s behavior, and they found no statistically significant changes. The rates of problem gambling remained in the 3.5% to 5.5% range, while pathological gambling stood between 1% and 2.4%.
And although there have been frequent stories in the media about women who are gambling addicts, men are more than twice as likely as women to be problem gamblers. In fact, the survey showed the prevalence of problem gambling among women actually decreased, from 2.9 to 2.5 percent.
Gambling, less popular than it used to be
Another interesting thing researchers found was that overall participation in gambling has declined over the past decade. In 1999-2000, 82.2% of respondents said they gambled. By 2013, that rate had dropped to just 76.9%. They also gambled less than before – from an average of 59.9 days per year in 1999 to 53.7 days in the past years.
“We compared results from two nationwide telephone surveys, conducted a decade apart. We found no significant increase in the rates of problem gambling in the U.S., despite a nationwide increase in gambling opportunities,” senior research scientist John W. Welte, PhD, told reporters.
A previous study by Welte concluded that if people live within 10 miles of a casino, they are more likely to gamble. But with American gambling laws allowing states to build more and more gambling venues, casinos have proliferated in the country over the past few years.
“It may be due to the economic downturn we experienced starting in 2008, which resulted in a decline in casino business,” Welte speculates. “It also could be due to the ‘theory of adaptation’ – that while initial increases in exposure to gambling venues lead to increases in rates of problem gambling, a population will eventually adapt and further negative consequences will not continue.”
In conclusion, there is no social harm in legalizing internet gambling in the US. In fact, it could actually help by bringing in additional tax revenues and giving legislators a better control over the industry.