The widespread availability of online gambling is causing increasing concern that the internet may contribute to problem gambling. In particular, the ability to make large wagers, continuous gambling, and instant feedback has led to concerns that internet gaming could lead to excessive gambling behaviour. However, the majority of online gamblers display responsible gaming practices and can set loss limits and self-exclude. In addition, many sites offer a variety of payment methods and have customer support staff. Identifying, detecting and acting on early risk indicators may reduce the harms sustained by Internet gamblers. Longitudinal research is also needed to untangle whether game-specific characteristics play a causal role in the emergence of problems.
Currently, regulated online gambling is available in 48 states in the USA. The two holdouts are Utah and Hawaii, mainly due to the religious beliefs of the populations. Many of the states that have a legal framework for online gambling have strict regulations, including player identification requirements and age restrictions. Some of the regulated websites provide secure environments, with encryption of information to ensure privacy. However, it is important to check that a website has this security feature before registering. It is also advisable to choose an username that does not reveal your personal identity, and never share passwords. In addition, players should use a credit card that has a chip to avoid being exposed to fraud.
A number of studies have investigated the relationship between Internet gambling and problem gambling. In a nationally representative sample, one study found that Internet gambling was associated with a greater likelihood of problematic gambling, although this association was only evident for those who had never experienced problem gambling before. Another study found that when other factors were controlled for, Internet gambling did not predict problem gambling severity.
However, this study was cross-sectional and relied on self-reporting. Furthermore, a recent review of the literature has found that most Internet gamblers do not operate exclusively on an online basis. Rather, they integrate online gambling with other forms of gambling, such as land-based and lottery activities. In addition, some of these studies have used a mixed method design, and have therefore been unable to determine causality.
A growing body of evidence suggests that Internet gambling may be a significant contributor to problematic behaviours, but it is crucial to develop effective treatment and prevention strategies. This will require cooperation between independent researchers to design and evaluate interventions, operators to enable access to data, and regulators to enforce responsible gambling policies. In addition, brief online interventions and more in-depth treatments should be developed to address the unique needs of Internet gamblers. The development of an online self-exclusion programme should also be a priority. Moreover, research is required to investigate how internet gambling behaviour can be integrated more broadly with offline gambling. This will be important to help understand the impact of online gambling on problem behaviours, particularly impulsivity and craving. This may ultimately contribute to the development of a new behavioural addiction disorder in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.