A new series of studies conducted by the Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addiction has concluded that internet gambling is not as addictive as many opponents of the industry claim.
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The studies, led by Harvard Medical School professor Howard J Shaffer, Ph.D., were conducted in conjunction with the online gambling giant bwin, which supplied data on 40,000 customers of its casino and poker room. While past studies relied on self-report, the data offered by bwin allowed researchers to have “objective, detailed information about betting behavior and the conditions under which gamblers place wagers.”
One of the main findings drawn from the investigation was that the “overwhelming majority” of bwin players wagered “moderately” compared to the other customers included in the study. It was found that only around 5% of the gamblers spent excessive time and money wagering on the site.
According to a white paper that summarized the results, that number is consistent with worldwide rates. “Overall findings contradict the speculation that online gambling is a public health hazard because of internet gambling’s easier access and structural characteristics (e.g., speed of play) compared with traditional forms of gaming,” it said.
Regarding online poker, the research indicated that players exhibited a similar pattern of moderate behavior. After analyzing 3,445 poker players over a period of two years, Shaffer found that as customers began to take losses, they curbed their betting habits by wagering less.
The study showed that around 95% of the sample bought in for a median of $16 during two sessions a week over six months. The heaviest gamblers making up the remaining 5% were found to bet $115 in 10 sessions per week. The study did not take into account that some of those players might be winning professionals, something that would further decrease the percentage of problem gamblers.
Turning its attention to sports betting, the Harvard team found that the median player bet around $5.25 on average and wagered less than three times every fourth day. The researchers determined that new customers “tended to adapt fairly quickly to betting online, as evidenced by quickly developing declines in overall participation, number, and size of bets.”
Shaffer also looked at 4,222 online casinogamblers who preferred house games like blackjack, slots, and video poker. He found that players in the sample wagered on those games just once every two weeks over a period of nine months. During that time, these gamblers lost 5.5% of their total money wagered. In summary, researchers found that most online casino bettors gambled sensibly, taking only modest losses.
The results of the study could provide firepower for i-gaming proponents and serve to debunk sentiments held by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, among others, and his Coalition to Stop Internet Gambling. The Adelson-funded organization has lobbied hard to convince American citizens, along with state governments, that internet casinos will entice the vulnerable to wager money that they can’t afford to lose.
Andy Abboud, Las Vegas Sands Vice President, regularly turns up to speak against the industry at government hearings. With a dramatic flair, he has waived his mobile phone around saying, “It’s a vice. It doesn’t need to be everywhere.” The Harvard study could serve to dilute Abboud’s argument during his next appearance.
States considering legalizing the industry like California and Pennsylvania might also take Shaffer’s research into consideration as they make their decision on whether to regulate internet gambling.