This week an article in the Atlantic pretty much eviscerated everything online gambling opponents have been proselytizing to the masses in relation to the availability and accessibility of online gambling and problem gambling.
Frequency and stakes
The first part of the article focuses on a recent study of online gambling habits by the Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addiction in conjunction with the online gaming website bwin (bwin offers online sports betting, casino games and poker) which showed that on average online gamblers are betting infrequently and for extremely small amounts of money.
According to the Harvard study’s data on 40,000 sports bettors, the average gambler places less than five wagers per week (2.5 every four days) with an average wager of just $5.50.
The study also examined some two million online poker players and found the average time spent at the online poker tables was less than five hours over a six month period. Furthermore, the average rake paid by these users was less than $1/hour; an indication that they are playing for extremely low stakes.
The study also looked at 4,000 online casino users and found the average player gambled just once every two weeks.
Bottom line: Most players use online gambling to wager small amounts of money and do so quite infrequently.
But there are problem gamblers online
The study did find a small percentage of players (between 1% and 5% of all gamblers) that exhibited “intense gambling behavior” which is in line with the most problem gambling statistics and inferences dating back even before Internet gambling.
Bottom line: Online gambling does not increase the percentage of problem gamblers in society.
Online vs. brick & mortar
The second part of the article focuses on the allure of both online and brick & mortar gambling.
After detailing the findings of a 2006 paper published by the University of Guelph that certain casino layouts and designs led to an increased desire to gamble the author of the Atlantic column, Cameron Tung, offered his own anecdotal experiences which seemingly backed up the University of Guelph findings –a better way to authenticate the findings is the fact that casinos across the globe have adopted the design model laid out in the paper.
Bottom line: Brick & mortar casinos create a far more alluring environment for gamblers.
What it all means
These studies are certainly not the be all end all argument in favor of online gambling, but what they do bring to light is that the current data –as it exists– points to online gambling having very little social impact.
As far as online gambling opponents go, the article and the cited studies make it hard to argue that a state expanding into online poker will suddenly see a huge rise in problem gamblers when the average online poker player (from a sample of two million) plays less than five hours every six months, in games where the buy-in requires only a few bills with George Washington’s picture on them.
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