Web Wagerers May Have Deeper Gambling Problem

Study finds it more risky than casino or lottery gaming

SUNDAY, March 17, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Logging on to the Internet and placing a few bets is just harmless fun, right?

The odds are against it, a new study says.

Gamblers who use the Internet to place their bets are more likely to have a gambling problem than those who wager at casinos or play the lottery, according to the study, which appears in the March issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors.

"We're not seeing a lot of recreational gambling on the Internet," says one of the study's authors, Nancy Petry, who is an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. "The Internet seems to attract people who are prone to or who have already developed a gambling problem."

Petry and her colleagues surveyed almost 400 people recruited from the university's free or reduced-cost dental and health clinics. The average age of the study volunteers was almost 43 years old, and most had at least a high school diploma or some college. The group was fairly evenly split between males and females. Almost half of the group's participants reported being married.

The most popular form of non-Web-based gambling by far was the lottery; almost 90 percent of the volunteers had played. Eighty-two percent had played slots. A little more than 70 percent had played cards for money, while 56 percent had played bingo. Slightly more than 50 percent had bet on sports or animal races.

Just 31 of the study participants had gambled on the Internet; 14 of those reported doing so weekly.

Twenty-six percent of the study participants showed signs of problem gambling, and 15 percent of those met the criteria for gambling addiction. That's much higher than what's normally found in the general population, according to Petry, perhaps because the researchers looked at a higher-risk population. It may also be one of the study's limitations, she says. Other studies have suggested that less than 2 percent of people are pathological gamblers and another 3 percent are problem gamblers.

Even though only 8 percent of the volunteers had Internet gaming experience, it seemed to be a good predictor of who would have problems with gambling. Almost three-quarters of those with Internet betting experience were classified as problem gamblers, while only 22 percent of those who hadn't placed any Internet wagers had a problem.

"Internet gambling may indicate more pathological and problematic gambling," says Dr. Mark Zimmerman, an associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, who recently published a study on treating pathological gambling with antidepressant medication.

Petry says she doesn't believe these people started gambling on the Internet, but as their gambling problem progressed they may have turned to the computer so they wouldn't even have to go out to the casino -- not unlike an alcoholic who stays home and drinks alone rather than go to a bar.

Both Petry and Zimmerman believe Internet gambling will become more of a problem in the future.

"As Internet gaming becomes more widespread, there is the potential for a marked increase in problem gambling and it may develop into a more significant public health issue," says Zimmerman.

What To Do

If you think you might have a gambling addiction, ask yourself these 10 Questions from The National Council on Problem Gambling, or read this information from Gamblers Anonymous.

The University of Connecticut Health Center offers treatment programs and referrals. Call them at 1-877-400-0570 or click here.

The American Psychiatric Association has published a warning on the dangers of Internet gambling. You'll need the Adobe Acrobat Reader to view the warning. You can download it for free.

SOURCES: Nancy Petry, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry, University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington; Mark Zimmerman, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior, Brown University, Providence, R.I.; March 2002 Psychology of Addictive Behaviors
Consumer News