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Internet Gambling May Up Odds of Addiction


Without leaving the house and with the click of a mouse, internet gambling allows everyone a chance to pull a lever, bet on their favorite March Madness team, or roll the dice. Easy access to these opportunities could be fuel for gambling addiction for susceptible individuals.

Gambling has never been so easy

Office pools, fantasy teams, lottery tickets, widespread access to casinos and race tracks, and in more recent years the explosion of Internet gambling has made the pastime easier than ever for people of all ages. That includes young people, who are a special concern of Renee Cunningham-Williams, PhD, a gambling addictions expert and associate professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis.

She noted in a recent statement from the University that “Internet gambling provides youth with increased opportunities to gamble, which is particularly concerning because this generation is arguably the most technologically savvy of any generation in history.”

Thus far there is insufficient research on Internet gambling to determine if access to cyberspace contributes to gambling problems, she pointed out, but at the same time it’s been shown that people who gamble using the Internet and have problems are “often involved in other forms of gambling as well.”

Gambling youth is a growing problem
Gambling youth is not a new problem. In a PBS report from April 2005, it was reported that nearly one-third of high school students gamble regularly. The favorite forms of gambling were playing cards, the lottery, scratch tickets, and betting on sporting events.

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Jim Lehrer noted that young people today are the first generation to be exposed to legalized gambling, and that this opportunity is creating a growing number of teenagers with gambling addictions. The show stated more than 70% of young people ages 10 to 17 had gambled in the past year, which was an increase from 45% in 1988.

A subsequent report (2008) from the University of Buffalo and published in the Journal of Gambling Studies reported a similar finding: 68% of young people ages 14 to 21 said they had gambled in the past year, and 11% had gambled more than twice a week.

Young people who gamble may also engage in risky behaviors. A study from McGill University in 2007 reported on gambling and health risk behaviors among college athletes. The national survey included 20,739 student-athletes.

The investigators found that 62.4% of males and 42.8% of females said they had gambled during the past year, and of these, 4.3% of males and 0.4% of females were identified as compulsive gamblers. Problem gamblers experienced significantly more drug and alcohol related problems, and more unprotected sex and gorging/vomiting than non-gamblers and social gamblers.

Internet gambling could open doors
Cunningham-Williams commented that “The Internet may make gambling opportunities more attractive, accessible and available.” Although most people who gamble do not have significant problems, it remains to be seen if and how much impact access to cyberspace betting may have on addiction, especially given the possibility of the states legalizing Internet gambling.

Huang JH et al. Gambling and health risk behaviors among US college student-athletes: findings from a national study. J Adolesc Health 2007 May; 40(5): 390-97
PBS News Hour April 25, 2005
Washington University in St. Louis
Welte JW et al. The prevalence of problem gambling among US adolescents and young adults: results from a national survey. J Gambl Stud 2008 Jun; 24(2): 119-33

Image: Wikimedia Commons