The American Gaming Association’s 2013 survey of casino entertainment recently reported increased rates of gambling growth for the third year in a row, stating that gross revenues for the industry reached roughly $37.34 billion. An estimated 76 million Americans visited a casino in 2012 and, according to a recent article issued by the Daily Record, gambling addiction affects between two to five percent of those who gamble. The recent explosion of online gaming leaves some wondering whether gambling addiction will be exacerbated by online options available to those with an existing gambling problem.
The rapid growth of the gambling industry coupled with the recent evolution of technology has unleashed a new wave of options available to gamblers across the world. In 1995, the first online casino came to market, offering gamblers eighteen different game options. By 2006, the industry reported $10.9 billion in profit with millions of gamblers taking to the Internet to place their bets. USA Today reports that New Jersey is anticipating triple digit growth in its number of online gamblers this year alone.
A 2013 public opinion poll conducted by the American Gaming Association revealed that about 85 percent of Americans believe that gambling is an acceptable pastime. Ratings were highest among respondents aged 21-39, coming in at roughly 89 percent. Four in five Americans report placing a bet at least once in their lives. As this multi-billion dollar industry continues to grow and online gambling options become increasingly popular, some are beginning to worry that gambling addiction may be exacerbated by online gambling options.
Historically, the psychiatric community has regarded uncontrollable gambling as a compulsion rather than an addiction, initially believing that gambling was a way to help reduce anxiety. However, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) formally classified compulsive gambling as an “impulse-control disorder” in 1980, grouping it with illnesses that, at the time, included things like kleptomania (stealing), pyromania (fire starting) and trichotillomania (hair pulling). The association began to recognize compulsive gambling as an addiction only recently, redefining its classification in May of 2013.
As part of the APA’s recognition of gambling as an addiction, the association was able to demonstrate striking similarities between gambling addiction and drug addiction. Data shows that compulsive gamblers and drug addicts share some of the same genetic predispositions for impulsivity and reward seeking. Just like drug addicts require increasingly strong doses to feel an effect, pathological gamblers tend to pursue riskier gambling ventures. Some believe that online gambling may give gambling addicts more venues through which to pursue their habit while offering easier, round-the-clock accessibility.
A recent article by the LA Times reported that ten states have considered allowing or have allowed online gambling options so far. Last April, Nevada started offering online poker games and, last November, New Jersey began offering online poker and games replicating slot machine gambling. Delaware has launched a number of different online games for Internet-savvy gamblers as well.
As online gaming options continue to gain popularity, some worry that folks who struggle with a gambling addiction may find their compulsions exacerbated by the increase in entertaining, easily accessible online options. Gambling research specialist Robert Williams of the Alberta Gambling Research Institute shared with the Daily Record that gambling events occurring infrequently (like the lottery) have very low addiction rates. However, slot machines, which stimulate gamblers every five to six seconds and similar casino games have a much higher reinforcement frequency. “Online formats are delivering the most continuous forms of play at the highest frequency of reinforcement,” Williams said.
By Katie Bloomstrom