The restrictions on online gambling have been easing across parts of the United States in recent years – with an expected amount of controversy. Various interest groups have voiced their concerns and tried to put on the brakes. By far the main point of objection from groups like the Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling has been the fear of a rise in gambling addictions. However, research has shown that this fear may be greatly exaggerated.
The study was conducted by the Research Institute on Addictions at the University of Buffalo, and reported by Futurity.org, a non-profit site that features the latest research news from leading universities. John W. Welte, the senior research scientist at the institute explained that they had compared the results of two telephone surveys conducted over a decade apart. The first was done in 1999-2000, surveying 2,613 people, and the second was done in 2011-2013, surveying 2,963 people.
They were asked about their participation in a broad range of gambling activities, including raffles, office pools, pulltabs, bingo, cards, pool, casinos, lotteries, online gambling and sports betting. The institute reported that rates of problem gambling had remained stable.
Indications of problem gambling behaviour include obsessivly thinking about gambling, placing higher bets to attain greater thrills, lying to conceal gambling activity and, of course, an inability to stop.
Welte said, “We found no significant increase in the rates of problem gambling in the US, despite a nationwide increase in gambling opportunities.” The more severe form of gambling addiction, pathological gambling, also remained stable.
The study found that overall participation in gambling activities had decreased, with a reported drop in those that participated in gambling activities from 82.2 percent in 1999 to 76.9 percent in 2011. Welte suggested that this may be connected with economic downturn, which began in 2008, resulting in an overall decline in casino business. However, he suggested that another factor may also be at play.
Welte said, “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 support of this, previous research had shown that people were twice as likely to be problem gamblers if they lived within 10 miles of a casino, according to Futurity. However the rise in the number of casinos had not led to a proportional increase in the number of problem gamblers. The argument can therefore be made that long-term gambling problems are not connected to gambling accessibility.