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Effects of Problem Gambling Overstated?

Effects of Problem Gambling Overstated?

While millions of players around the world enjoy online gambling and trips to Vegas, Macau, and other destinations, the specter of problem gambling (also called pathological gambling) still looms over the industry from time to time.

Some of the countries such as the US that have passed anti-gambling laws seeking to curtail online gambling have often cited problem gambling as a major concern; the rallying cry of opponents of US online casinos has for years been: "Click the mouse and lose the house."

Very few studies have actually been done to investigate the root causes of problem gambling, however, with many making the seemingly logical assumption that if more casinos are made available -- whether they are online casinos or new brick-and-mortar casinos -- the number of problem gamblers will increase.

A recent article by Howard Shaffer and Ryan Martin (both psychiatry professors at the Harvard Medical School) published in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology comes to the slightly surprising conclusion that there seems to be no direct link between problem gambling and access to casinos and gambling sites.

"When gambling becomes newly available in an area, you'll see some increase in gambling," he says. "Some people who would not have gambled become willing to try." That's especially true in places that (unlike Illinois) had no legal gambling before. But the effect, contrary to myth, soon subsides.

"I was so wrong about this when I started this work," Shaffer admits. He expected it would take generations for people to adjust their behavior in response to greater availability. In fact, "people gambling on the Internet change from gambling more to less in weeks. We never would have predicted that."

Shaffer's study also showed that Internet gambling actually produced fewer instances of problem gambling, as in many cases the social interaction of going to the casino or the racetrack appears to be an important triggering mechanism.

His study concludes that in most cases problem gambling often has little to do with gambling itself, with about 75% of problem gamblers suffering from a mental health problem originally that then may evolve into a gambling problem; Shaffer's study and other similar ones conducted have concluded that only about 5% of gamblers will ever have a gambling problem.

25-Jul-2011, 09:47

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