March 17, 2002

Internet Gamblers May be More Likely to Have a Serious Gambling Problem than Other Gamblers, Study Finds

The internet may attract those who try to hide gambling behaviors

WASHINGTON - People who use the internet to gamble may have more serious gambling problems than those who use slot machines or play the lottery, according to a new study that is among the first to evaluate the prevalence of internet gambling. The study warns that the explosive growth of the internet will likely lead to more on-line gambling opportunities and the health and emotional difficulties that come with gambling disorders, including substance abuse, circulatory disease, depression and risky sexual behaviors. The findings are reported on in the March issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, a journal of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Psychologists George T. Ladd, Ph.D., and Nancy M. Petry, Ph.D., of the University of Connecticut Health Center surveyed the gambling behaviors of 389 people seeking free or reduced-cost dental or health care at the university's health clinics. Results show that nearly 11 percent were found to be problem gamblers and over 15 percent met the criteria for pathological gamblers. The most common forms of gambling reported by the participants were lottery (89%), slot machines (82%) and scratch tickets (79%). Next came card-playing forms of gambling (71%), sports betting (57%), bingo (56%) and animal betting (53%). Internet gambling was reported by just over eight percent or 31 of the participants and 14 of those people reported gambling on the internet at least weekly.

Although internet gambling was the least common gambling activity of the study's participants, the study found that a majority of those with internet gambling experience had the most serious levels of gambling behaviors, known as Level 2 (problematic) and Level 3 (pathological) gambling. Only 22 percent of the participants without any internet gambling experience were Level 2 or 3 gamblers, compared with 74 percent of participants with internet gambling experience who were classified as Level 2 or 3 gamblers.

Internet gamblers were also more likely to be unmarried and younger than those who never used the internet for gambling. They also tended to have lower education and income levels than non-Internet gamblers, which is surprising, according to the researchers, since access to the internet is traditionally associated with people that have higher income and education levels. No significant gender differences were found between internet and non-internet gamblers.

"The availability of internet gambling may draw individuals who seek out isolated and anonymous contexts for their gambling behaviors," say the authors. "Accessibility and use of internet gambling opportunities are likely to increase with the explosive growth of the internet."

More research in this area is needed, say the authors, to determine whether an increase in internet use may lead to the development of more serious forms of gambling, or whether the internet attracts individuals who already have a gambling problem. However, "the study shows that screening for gambling problems in their patients may enhance the ability of health professionals to intervene and prevent physical and emotional health problems."

Article: "Disordered Gambling Among University-Based Medical and Dental Patients: A Focus on Internet Gambling," George T. Ladd and Nancy M. Petry, University of Connecticut Health Center; Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, Vol. 16, No. 1.

Co-author Nancy M. Petry can be reached at (860) 679-2593.

The University of Connecticut Health Center offers free and confidential treatment to individuals with gambling problems as part of the first NIMH-sponsored study investigating treatments for pathological gambling. For more information, call toll free 1-877-400-0570.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 155,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.