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Smaller Risk of Addiction in Web Gambling

4/19/09 - Harvard Crimson - View Source

By Laura M. Fontanills
Contributing Writer

Going all-in? Not likely, if you gamble online.

A recent study conducted by the Harvard Medical School Division on Addictions suggests that the widespread availability of Internet gambling has not led to an increase in the number of people addicted to gambling.

The study actually found that gamblers who visit gaming Web sites are more likely to self-regulate their betting behavior based on their pattern of wins and losses.

Those who are addicted to gambling do not exhibit such control.

The study began in February 2005 and observed 3,445 subscribers to BWIN, an Austria-based gaming Web site. The participants’ poker outcomes were analyzed over the course of two years, and the number of chips they bought and sold per session was tallied.

The study, which investigated online gambling as “a potential object of addictive behavior,” concluded that the availability of Internet gambling is not correlated to gambling addiction.

“The very first thing we learned, which we didn’t expect, was that the vast majority, the overwhelming majority, of gamblers online gamble in a very moderate and mild way,” said HMS Associate Professor of Psychology Howard Shaffer in an interview with Gambling Online Magazine.

Approximately 95 percent of players studied only bought a median of about $15.65 in chips at two poker sessions per week.

“A minority of most involved players did not show such moderation,” the study noted. The remaining 5 percent of players studied bet in excess, buying a median of $116.13 in chips at 10 sessions per week.

Although the number of people participating in online gambling is contested, the study showed that the percentage of problem gamblers has barely changed since the 1970s, hovering around 0.6 percent of the United States population.

Andrew M. Woods, the executive director of Harvard Law School’s Global Poker Strategic Thinking Society, said he did not find the results of the study surprising.

He asserted that poker is less like gambling and more like “risk assessment.”

According to Woods, other casino games, such as blackjack, have a built-in advantage towards the house, making it less likely for players to win money.

“There is no house in poker, so no one is guaranteed to win,” Woods said.

“Poker exercises your ability to make good decisions,” he said, reflecting on the mild betting habits of online players.

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