Casual Fun or a Dangerous Habit?

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Few topics are as divisive and controversial than that of online gambling. The phenomenon is not new – the first online casino has been launched in the mid-1990s – and it’s not something to be ignored. Playing casino games online can be an attractive pastime since it’s accessible, easy to use, and it doesn’t even have to cost players a fortune. Online gaming venues allow their players to play their games free of charge, “for fun” or in “practice mode”, in a way similar to their social counterparts – sans the in-app purchases and the ads, of course. And even if one wants to give the games a try for real, the minimum deposit casinos require their users to make are symbolic.

A strong opposition

Online gambling has quite a few opponents as well, especially citing its addictive nature. Online gambling opposers claim that casino games are addictive (this one has some truth in it), that they are open to minors (this one is utter nonsense) and that they contribute to the downfall of society as a whole. The voices opposing online gambling are the strongest in the US, fueled in part by some prominent figures in the land-based gambling business. Thanks to this strong opposition backed by a lot of money, the legal status of online gambling is still in a legislative limbo across the US, with only a handful of states having have made a decision in its regard: three states decided to regulate it, with several one of them outright banning the activity (along with all its other forms, online or otherwise).

What science has to say about online gambling

Bets

Although online gambling has a history of more than two decades, its effects on the people – and society as a whole – have been insufficiently studied. The only meaningful scientific study with a large enough sample size on the behavior of online gamblers of all types was conducted by the Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addiction and published in 2014. According to its findings, online casinos are much closer to social games than they are to proper, land-based casinos, especially when it comes to player behavior. There are, of course, players with “excessive betting behavior”, but these represent a minor part – between 1 and 5 percent – of the players.

Online casino players tend to gamble infrequently and lose small amounts, the same study shows. According to the numbers, the majority of online casino users will only play once every two weeks and lose up to 5.5% of all the money wagered. The situation is similar for online poker players, and sports bettors, too. What the study has managed to showcase is that the widespread exposure to gambling through the internet is not the instrument of society’s downfall, as its opponents have claimed.

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