How much addictive is the online gambling ?

Rather controversially catching the attention of industry observers this week is the reported opinion of a Swiss academic, who told a South African conference on addiction that Internet gamblers are "much more likely" to become pathological gamblers than those who frequent land casinos, and that the Internet does not provide problem gambling help.

These bald statements attracted the attention of the media, who reported the comments under the headline "Number of pathological Internet gamblers up."

Unfortunately, the report did not include any details of the research backing the claims of Yasser Khazaal, deputy head of the division of addictology at the University Hospital of Geneva, who also apparently said the number of pathological gamblers was growing across the world. Whether this was due to sparse reportage or an ommission in Khazaal's address to the 10th annual International Society of Addicted Medicine is not clear.

Certainly it appears from Khazaal's statements that his findings differ, and are in fact quite extraordinary, from the findings of studies conducted by the UK Gambling Commission and others in recent times, which found a low percentage of addiction amongst online players. And his claim that: "....much-needed help [on the Internet] does not exist. "If people are gambling on the Internet, there should be counselling there, too," is definitely arguable.

This appears to ignore the very valuable responsible gambling services of organisations like Gamcare, G4, RIGT and many other worthwhile organisations with an online presence, as well as the serious licensing jurisdictions and regulatory bodies which have responsible gambling requirements. Or the significant investment in training online casino staff around the world by individual companies and player protection bodies such as eCOGRA.

Nor does it acknowledge the efforts of the many respectable tier one online gambling websites which devote whole sections of the websites to self-diagnostic tools, warnings on problem gambling and self exclusion and wagering limit facilities. And the intense efforts at those same operations to exclude underage chancers.

None of these very pertinent facts are presented in the media reports, giving a skewed perspective to those not familiar with the online gambling industry and how it works.

But, for the record, Khazaal is reported as saying:

* Internet gamblers are much more likely to become pathological gamblers than people who visit casinos, and the Internet does not offer enough help for people with addiction problems.

* "It is more likely for Internet gamblers to become pathological gamblers. I don't know if this is because the Internet is more addictive or if the people online are already gamblers and exacerbate their problem online," he said.

* Khazaal has been researching websites that offer help for people with addiction problems. He said that much-needed help does not exist. "If people are gambling on the Internet, there should be counselling there, too," he said.

* Online gambling is increasingly popular and there is no worldwide regulatory system that can control or standardise the websites.

* That Khazaal "....visited a gambling site in South Africa "out of curiosity" said that, while a country could ban Internet gambling, it could not control all Internet sites and people could still gamble from foreign websites." He said a uniform system of regulation was needed.

* "There is a control illusion problem with gambling. People believe the more you gamble the greater the probability is that you will win, but actually there is just more probability that you will lose money," he said.

Readers will draw their own conclusions....

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