Online poker and other Internet gambling games have come under assault in the United States, with many opponents suggesting that these games are more likely to lead to problem gambling than land-based forms of betting.
However, a new study out of Australia has provided evidence that this probably isn’t the case, and that most gambling problems in fact stem from live play.
Dr. Sally Gainsbury of Southern Cross University found that Internet gambling was not at the root of most cases of “disordered gambling,” or problem gambling.
Disordered gambling is the medical term that has replaced “pathological gambling” as the preferred terminology for referring to compulsive gambling issues in recent years.
“Evidence is emerging that Internet gambling is not only not predictive of gambling problems, but that when other variables are controlled for individuals who gamble, online may have lower rates of gambling problems,” Gainsbury wrote.
The primary finding of the research was that gambling problems most commonly manifest through live gambling first, rather than starting with online play.
That’s not to say that Internet gambling can’t contribute to these problems; however, simply looking at how many problem gamblers use the Internet to gamble can be misleading, as many of these players began betting offline and then moved on to online gambling.
The study did not differentiate between online poker and other forms of Internet betting, such as online casinos or sports betting.
However, many of the arguments used against online poker in the United States were still addressed by the study, which some believe could make it a weapon against such arguments going forward.
For instance, some who lobby against online poker suggest that by banning the game, they will prevent people from developing gambling problems. Gainsbury’s study found that this may not be the case, however.
“An analysis across 30 European jurisdictions failed to identify any association between prohibitions against online gambling, gambling licensing systems, the extent of legal gambling opportunities and the prevalence of gambling disorder,” Gainsbury said.
While the study will certainly be welcomed by those who are in favor of online poker and other Internet gambling games, it should be noted that the study didn’t entirely let online gambling off the hook.
Gainsbury noted that there is research that suggests that Internet games can make existing gambling problems worse, and there may be some individuals or groups for whom the Internet does pose a higher risk.
Overall, Gainsbury noted, many of these issues simply don’t have enough research yet, and it may take more time and data to truly know how much of a role the Internet plays in causing or contributing to gambling problems.
Gainsbury’s research began by looking into the problems that could potentially be caused by social gambling apps like Zynga Poker.
Her goal was to find out whether the free games could ultimately contribute to disordered gambling by driving people to real money games.
“They’re free to play, there are no regulations, they can be accessed by anyone including underage people and the concern is they’re making gambling seem like an everyday activity, something that’s harmless fun,” Gainsbury said last October. “Gambling is an entertainment activity but it’s for adults only and there are certainly some significant risks.”