Online Gambling is the activity of placing wagers on games such as sports events, online lottery tickets, keno and casino games such as roulette and slots. The development of internet technology has revolutionised the gambling industry and resulted in increased access to a range of betting options for people across the globe. There are concerns that this increased availability of gambling may increase the risk of problem gambling.
A recent study investigated how contemporary changes to online gambling have impacted the experiences of treatment-seeking gamblers. Specifically, the study looked at how different aspects of online gambling (e.g., greater accessibility, broader product offering and prolific marketing) have influenced gambling behaviours and experiences.
The research was conducted using online focus groups with a nationally representative sample of young adult online gamblers who had reported problematic gambling in the past. Participants were recruited from two large Canadian universities through a screener embedded in the university’s admissions questionnaire and through a broader recruitment strategy that included flyers posted in classrooms, hallways and other public areas. Those who completed the screener were contacted about participating in the focus group study and were asked to consent for their participation. All participants were given a description of the study objectives and were informed that they could withdraw at any time without penalty.
Findings from the focus groups suggest that online gambling is a complex phenomenon. While the increased accessibility and broader range of products have enhanced the overall gambling experience, this has also contributed to greater levels of problem gambling and more specific concerns with online gambling such as the ease of spending money without realising it and the prevalence of ‘hidden’ costs (e.g., reload bonuses).
There was also a perception that a lack of transparency and regulation in online gambling had led to the growth of predatory practices and fraud. This was exacerbated by the perception of low levels of customer support and a lack of information about responsible gambling policies.
Another important finding from the study was that when gamblers experienced gambling-related problems they often turned to online communities for help. However, these online communities were characterized by homophilic communication patterns and an absence of contrasting views which may have influenced the gamblers’ thoughts and beliefs about their gambling activities.
Furthermore, these online forums offered gamblers a place to discuss change strategies and how they were implemented in their day-to-day lives. These strategies were most often related to the action phase of the change process which involved coming up with alternative activities and managing urges. Other popular change strategies discussed by gamblers were those related to the pre-decisional and multi-phased stages of the change process (e.g., contemplating and removing barriers to change). However, many gamblers found it difficult to stick to these plans. This is likely due to the ease of access and constant availability of gambling which can disrupt their sleep, eating and family life. Further work is needed to explore the effectiveness of a range of interventions and support for internet gamblers to reduce the risks associated with this form of gambling.