Using a wireless Internet connection, gamblers can play games of chance or skill for money on their mobile devices. Internet gambling is a growing phenomenon that offers consumers convenience, a wide variety of betting options, and speed. However, it also offers a risk of addiction, and studies indicate that it can lead to problems.
The relationship between Internet gambling and mental health has been a subject of interest for researchers. However, many studies have failed to provide sufficient data to establish a reliable link between Internet gambling and gambling problems. In addition, studies often use small sample sizes, and may not adequately measure the impact of Internet gambling on gambling problems. Similarly, studies may have been compromised by misreporting of statistics. Research also needs to expand its scope to determine the causes of disordered gambling. Identifying risk indicators is a key step toward developing a comprehensive understanding of gambling problems.
The Harvard Medical School Division on Addiction conducted a series of studies on Internet gambling. In the studies, researchers partnered with bwin, a large European gambling site, to collect data from tens of thousands of players over two years. Although the studies had some limitations, they provided an overview of the types of Internet gamblers who are at risk of problem gambling. Similarly, other research found that the relationship between Internet gambling and mental health was not as strong as some researchers suggested. However, the data did suggest that Internet gamblers are less likely to smoke and drink alcohol when gambling online.
Research has shown that there is not a single indicator that predicts problem gambling. However, this type of study does indicate that gambling behavior tends to increase when new opportunities arise. Studies that examined the health effects of problem gambling also found that problem gamblers are more likely to report mental health issues than at-risk gamblers. Researchers also found that a small percentage of highly involved gamblers are at risk for problem gambling, but these individuals are not necessarily the cause of the problem. In addition, studies that analyzed self-reported gambling problems did not find that internet gambling was a risk factor for problem gambling.
Research conducted at Harvard Medical School found that a small percentage of Internet gamblers are at high risk for gambling problems, but the study did not determine whether this group is more likely to engage in Internet modes or other forms of gambling. This research reflects a trend in many studies, which are recognizing the importance of developing comprehensive knowledge of gambling problems and gambling disorders.
Another study conducted by Harvard Medical School found that a small percentage – a little less than one percent – of Internet gamblers are at risk for gambling problems. In addition, studies conducted in Sweden and Australia found that Internet gamblers were not as likely to develop problems as the general population.
In 2007, the US House of Representatives introduced a bill that would regulate online gambling. The bill, called the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection, and Enforcement Act (HR 2046), would require licensing of Internet gambling facilities by the director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. In addition, it would amend the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). Several similar bills have been introduced in the House since 2007.
Internet gambling is likely to continue to grow as more jurisdictions recognize the advantages of regulating Internet gambling. As such, regulation must continue to evolve and understand the impact of Internet gambling.