Online gamblers are more likely to show addictive behaviors such as drinking and smoking cannabis than offline players, new research shows.
It's a sensitive time for online gambling, with the US Department of Justice having announced that previous legislation banning online betting only relates to sports betting, and not to casino games. It means individual states can now legalize online gambling - if they wish.
"There has been growing concern with the rise in online gambling and how this affects the health of our public," says Sylvia Kairouz of Concordia University.
"The number of gambling sites around the globe have grown from about 15 in 1995 to 2,358 in 2010 and global internet gambling revenues increased from $3 billion to $24 billion between 2000 and 2010."
Kairouz looked at the sociodemographic profiles, game-play patterns and level of addictive behaviours in adults who gamble online and offline. They used data from the 2009 Quebec gambling survey, which aimed to describe gambling problems, patterns and associated substance use behaviours in the Quebec population.
From this survey, a sampling of 8,456 offline-only gamblers and 111 offline/online gamblers was chosen for the research.
They were asked to report their gambling frequency over the past year and to give the number of times they gambled weekly, monthly or yearly. They were also asked to report how much money and time they spent gambling on a typical occasion. Alcohol and cannabis use over the year was also measured.
"Our results show that online gamblers reported being involved in more types of gambling and they spent more money and time playing than those gambling offline only," says Kairouz.
"The proportion of frequent and problematic drinkers and cannabis users was also much higher among the Internet players."
According to Kairouz, these findings suggest that online gambling emerges as one more risky behaviour among a panoply of other substance-related risky behaviours exhibited by this small group of individuals.
"We cannot determine, therefore, whether gambling on the internet creates problems in and of itself, or whether those who already have addictive behaviours are more likely to be enticed to gamble on the Internet," she says.
"We need to conduct more research looking at individual characteristics, environmental conditions, the object of the addiction (poker, for example) and so on to help us understand whether this group is more at risk for gambling-related problems."