There is legislation in place in a number of Westernised countries such as the U.S. and Australia that makes certain aspects of gambling over the Internet illegal.

One of the major justifications for these laws is the assertion that online gambling increases the risk of problem gambling.

For example, the Sydney Morning Herald reports on a well-known Australian anti-gambling campaigner:

Senator Xenophon does not support liberalising gambling laws, saying the more accessible online gambling is the greater the risk of gambling problems developing.

Is there sufficient evidence to support the assertion that gambling over the Internet increases the risk of problem gambling in comparison to gambling in a regular casino?

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    Australian law doesn't prohibit Internet gambling - it prohibits offering online "interactive" gambling targetted at Australians. There is plenty of online sports betting, but not 'in-play' betting. So, the justification for this law is more subtle than 'Internet gambling is bad'. – Oddthinking Nov 21 '11 at 8:31
  • @Oddthinking I was aware of this that is why I stated makes certain aspects of gambling over the Internet illegal, the law mainly targets online casinos that offer games such as Poker and Blackjack and you are correct the gambling service provider is the one which is liable. – jazzdawg Nov 21 '11 at 8:50
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    Sorry, Jazzdawg. My ill-expressed point was this: if the lawmakers believed the assertion "gambling over the Internet increases the risk of problem gambling in comparison to gambling in a regular casino", in so many words, they would have produced a different law. I invite you to cite someone making that claim (ideally, someone who lobbies law-makers). – Oddthinking Nov 21 '11 at 9:16
  • I feel obliged to declare an interest: I gamble online. I am constrained by this law. – Oddthinking Nov 21 '11 at 9:17
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    Whatever this one senator might have said, I don't think such laws are based on the idea that Internet gambling is more or less problematic than casino gambling. The relevant comparison is a social one, namely will as many people develop gambling problems if Internet gambling isn't available (or at least less aggressively promoted, etc.)? Incidentally, I still think this (indirect) quote can be read in that way and not as a claim that Internet gambling is more harmful than regular casino by itself. – Relaxed Jun 25 '14 at 10:55
up vote 9 down vote accepted

It is my opinion that these governments are restricting online gambling until they can figure out a way to tax such services.

As to your question, I am not aware of any studies showing that online gambling is more harmful than offline gambling although many predict it.

This study from 2010 did not find any correlation between length of time playing online and scores for the DSM-IV criteria for problem gambling: Mark Griffiths, Jonathan Parke, Richard Wood and Jane Rigbye, Online Poker Gambling in University Students: Further Findings from an Online Survey International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction Volume 8, Number 1, 82-89, DOI: 10.1007/s11469-009-9203-7

This study comprised 422 online poker players (362 males and 60 females) and investigated some of the predicting factors of online poker success and problem gambling using an online questionnaire. Results showed that length of time as a player was positively correlated with the number of days playing per year, length of poker sessions, and financial success. However, length of time playing did not correlate with either score on DSM-IV problem gambling criteria or perceived skill.

An earlier study from 2001 states

Internet gambling could be argued to be more psychologically enticing than previous non-technological incarnations of gambling because of anonymity, accessibility and interactivity.

There has been a lot of study put into the idea of internet addiction, which seems to be well supported. Some interesting studies are here and here as well as the Wikipedia page. This study purports that online gaming can become an addiction because of the potential for overuse.

In short it seems there is insufficient data, although internet addiction may be a significant contributing factor to online gambling being more harmful.

  • I found the 2010 study very interesting. Good find. I was confused by their definition of "length of time as a player"/"length of time playing". If they meant "I have spent 1000 hours on-line" then the positive correlation with number of days playing per year and length of poker sessions is a trivial result. If they meant "I started player 3 years ago" then the lack of DSM-IV criteria just indicates isn't necessarily the long-term players who are the problem gamblers. – Oddthinking Nov 21 '11 at 9:24
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    Another shortcoming is that they only surveyed university students, who may have a very different profile to the general public. They find that higher stakes were correlated with financial success. Online poker is (close to) a zero-sum game. If the conclusion is valid, this implies higher stakes are correlated with LOWER financial success for non-students, and confirms there is a difference in the populations. – Oddthinking Nov 21 '11 at 9:29
  • Aside: Of course financial success is correlated with not exceeding your financial budget. When you are up, your budget is not a constraint. – Oddthinking Nov 21 '11 at 9:30
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    Sure. With poker if you play and win at a high stakes table, other people also at the high stakes table must lose. It can't be the case that all high-stakes players are winners. (This is not true in, say, horse-betting, where a high-stakes winner may be funded by a multitude of low-stakes losers, or vice versa.) If they find that in their limited sample, high-stakes bets are correlated with success, it leads to the question "what happened to the predicted high-stakes losers?" I conclude they must come from outside the sample. (Alternative explanation below.) – Oddthinking Nov 21 '11 at 10:13
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    gov here made it quite clear when they banned online gambling that they did so because online casinos aren't licensed by the government (which means they don't pay license fees and indeed taxes). They do allow licensed casinos to offer online gambling, belying the argument they do it to prevent addiction :) – jwenting Nov 21 '11 at 13:08

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