Online gambling is a multibillion dollar industry that offers casino games, sports betting, and poker. While gambling can be fun and rewarding, it also has the potential to lead to serious problems. Many people who experience gambling disorders report disrupted relationships, financial difficulties, and feelings of withdrawal when they try to stop playing. The American Psychiatric Association classifies gambling disorder as a mental health problem, similar to other addictive disorders such as substance use and eating disorders.
Gambling on the Internet can be done for real money or virtual tokens, called chips. Players can play casino games such as blackjack and slots, place bets on sports events or other contests, or gamble in poker tournaments. Winnings can be deposited into the player’s account or paid out through certified checks mailed to the winner. Casinos and gambling websites often have bonus programs that offer 5% to 20% of the initial deposit. These bonuses are usually tied to wager requirements, which must be met before the bonus can be withdrawn.
There is no consensus on how to define the term “online gambler” in the literature, with some authors considering only those who exclusively gamble online while others consider that all those who gamble at least once a year are considered as online gamblers. Moreover, some studies only compare nonproblematic online gamblers with traditional gamblers while others look at the comparison between online and pathological gambling. Additionally, the literature has no clear and determined definition of gambling severity and there are different opinions on whether it is useful to categorize gamblers according to levels of risk (low-, moderate-, high-risk).
In general, a number of papers support the hypothesis that gambling online is associated with negative consequences. Specifically, those who gamble online are more likely to experience psychological distress than those who do not. Gainsbury et al. (2010) found that people who gamble online are more likely to have lower quality and quantity of personal relationships than those who do not. Moreover, McCormack et al. (2013) report that those who have a history of problematic gambling are more likely to experience depression and anxiety than those who do not.
Moreover, online gambling can cause financial hardships for some people, especially those who do not have reliable income sources. As a consequence, some gamblers may resort to other illegal methods of getting money, such as robbery or money laundering. This can have a devastating impact on the victims’ family, friends, and coworkers, as well as the community as a whole.
In order to reduce gambling-related harms, researchers should focus on identifying and acting on early risk indicators. However, this is challenging, as single, unmistakable indicators of problems are uncommon in gambling games, and detection relies on complex algorithms that combine multiple features of a game. The research community should further investigate the characteristics of online gambling games in order to identify potential risk indicators. In addition, researchers should explore how gaming contexts affect the emergence of these risk factors.