Online Gambling Addiction

Online Gambling Addiction

The greatest risk associated with online gambling remains addiction. Les Bernal, executive director of the Stop Predatory Gambling foundation, argues that online gambling is “‘the most predatory industry in America’ [because] the business model depends on addicted or heavily indebted individuals losing large amounts…‘Instead of putting casinos on Main Street, [gambling establishments] are essentially putting one into every home office and dorm room in America, 24 hours a day.” 1

The consequences gambling addiction brings range from moderate to dire in circumstance. Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones of the NHS gambling clinic explains that “[gambling addiction] is a serious illness that can cause people to become suicidal, that can lead people to lose their homes, to lose the relationships they most care about, and in many cases leads people who are extremely moral people to commit illegal acts to fund their addiction." 2

Symptoms of Addiction and Problem Gambling

Online gambling addiction, also known as compulsive or pathological gambling, affects over 3 million people in America. 3 Compulsive gambling is an impulse-control disorder which leaves the addicted individual physically unable to stop their destructive habits, despite the addict’s realization of what their behavior is doing to their family, finances, and future. 4 Described as the “hidden illness,” online gambling addiction is especially pervasive because of broad access and anonymity of the Internet and the general lack of obvious physical symptoms connected with gambling addicts 5 Rob, a recovering gambling addict, calls the addiction an “illness of want,” describing how those addicted have an insatiable desire to gamble. 6 Online gambling, called the “crack cocaine of gambling,” is comparable to drug and alcohol addictions because the high or “buzz” players get from gambling is compared to the euphoria associated with drug use. 7 8
Online gambling addiction generally is not readily detectable. 9 However those who are addicted may exhibit some of the following symptoms:

  • Maintain an irregular sleeping schedule 10 11
  • Find themselves gambling more frequently than in the past 12
  • Participate for long periods of time gambling online 13
  • Avoid spending time with friends or participating in previously enjoyed social activities


  • Have trouble controlling gambling, including experiencing irresistible urges to play and having a feeling that “I need to be playing.” 17 1819
  • Deny or minimize their problem 20
  • Become secretive or lie about their gambling 21 22
  • Try to recouping gambling losses by gambling more, oftentimes to the point of obsession


  • Gamble until they lose all their money or even when they don’t have any money 26
  • Preoccupation with gambling (recreating past experiences or planning future ones) 27
  • Need more and more money to get a rush when gambling 2829
  • Become irritated or frustrated when trying to stop gambling 30 31
  • Begin gambling to relieve stress or escape from problems 32333435
  • Depend on others to repay their gambling debts 36
  • Shirk responsibility or lose concern in important relationships or at work/school 3738
  • Have already established gambling habits (i.e. began gambling at an early age) 39 40
  • Begin to feel remorse after gambling 41
  • Gamble to get money to pay gambling or other debts 4243
  • Borrow money or sell household items to pay for gambling 44
  • Become unwilling to use “gambling” money for any other uses (including basic needs like food

or clothes) 4546

  • Begin to commit crimes in order to finance gambling habits 4748
  • Become unable to stop gambling, despite recognizing damaging and destructive consequences 49
  • Consider suicide because of gambling losses or gambling habits 50

Problem Gambling vs. Compulsive or Pathological

Though more than 3 million Americans suffer from pathological gambling and addiction, 15 million Americans struggle with “problem” gambling. 51 These gamblers are considered “at-risk” for developing more serious symptoms and become pathological gamblers. 52 Social gambling becomes problem gambling when the gambler finds that gambling begins to disrupt his or her life psychologically, physically, socially, or vocationally.5354 Problem gamblers may exhibit one or more of the above listed symptoms, but no more than five. 55 56 If an individual exhibits more than five of the previously listed symptoms, then they should seek professional or clinical help.

Who are more likely to get addicted

A study done by Shaffer & Korn in 2002 indicates that individuals who are more likely to become addicted generally “are younger, experience co-occurring psychological problems (e.g., substance use disorders, depression), have less education, or are from the lower socio-economic strata). 57 These categories certainly do not describe the social, physical, or psychological attributes of every case of addiction.

Studies generally place a large emphasis on youth (children, teenagers, and young adults), indicating that they are at greater risk and susceptibly to gambling addictions than adults. 58 59 Young adult, teenager, and gambling addiction is addressed extensively below.

Why internet gambling is addictive

Traditional gambling in the past has proven to be addictive, but with the advent of the Internet, research and professionals suggest that because online gambling provides an increased opportunity for individuals to gamble, they expect to see the number of people becoming addicted to gambling rise. 6061 62 The 2007 British Gambling Prevalence survey reported that “Online gamblers are 10 times more likely to be compulsive gamblers than are those people who frequent casinos.” 63
Addiction rehab centers all over the world are beginning to see a new rise of addiction cases resulting from online gambling. David Newman, the director of the Guernsey Alcohol & Drug Abuse Council, reported that “With the advent of online and e-gambling globally, there has been a noticeable increase in [gambling addiction related] clients.” 64 This concerned has also been voiced by others, including establishments like Cuan Mhuir Addiction Center and GamCare. 65 66 67 Listed below are reasons why professional believe online gambling is more addictive than its traditional counterpart:

  1. Increased availability. A gambler can access online any type of game in seconds, anytime he or she is craving a “buzz”. 68
  2. Increased accessibility. Games may be accessed from any computer or electronic device with Internet capabilities.69 compared the increased accessibility of games to having a casino “streaming 24 hours a day into your living room…[making] what once took effort—or a trip to Las Vegas—exceedingly easy.” 70
  3. Increased anonymity. Because gamblers can access games from their personal computer, anyone can gamble virtually undetected and unbeknownst to friends or family. 71 The Federal Trade Commission states that online gambling results in addiction because “Internet gambling is a solitary activity, [where] people can gamble uninterrupted and undetected for hours at a time.”
  4. Rapid gameplay. Gambling online, gamblers can play several poker hands in only a couple of minutes, not only increasing the pace at which players can lose or win money, but also the frequency which addicted players get the “buzz” they need. 72
  5. Increased access to gambling for minors. Online gambling establishments have proven ineffective in deterring youth from gambling. Though gambling is illegal for minors, a majority of gambling sites do not provided proper identification checks on users; sometimes online casinos only require a user to simply check a box validating that they are above 18 years old. Compulsive gamblers generally begin gambling at a young age, consequently the increased availability of gambling online threatens an increased number of children, who may be more likely to become addicted in later years.

Consequences of Addiction: For those Addicted, Family, and Friends

Compulsive and problem gambling come coupled with detrimental side effects, affecting not only addicts, but also those associated with addicts (e.g. family, loved ones, employers, friends, etc.). Ed Looney, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, comments that “…it’s a devastating illness, it’s an illness that if it’s not treated, it will end up that the person’s whole lifestyle will be affected.”73 Consequence and adverse side effects of online and traditional gambling addiction include:

  1. Strained relationships 74
  2. Interference with vocational and other responsibilities 75
  3. Disrupted sleeping and eating habits. 76
  4. Financial problems, including massive debt, bankruptcy, and possible impoverishment 77
  5. Legal problems, resulting from crimes committed to obtain gambling money (e.g. shoplifting, money laundering, fraud, embezzlement, etc.) 7879
  6. Suicide, including desires for or attempting to commit. 8081
  7. Domestic violence and abuse. Research suggests that compulsive gambler’s families are more likely to experience domestic violence and child abuse. 8283
  8. Disrupted family life. Children of problem gamblers are more likely to experience depression, behavior problems, and drug use. 84

Stories of Addiction

The stories listed below illustrate the consequences and adverse side effects gambling addiction brings to individuals, finances, and families. Many of these situations illustrate the extreme consequences of people embroiled in gambling addiction, nevertheless they portray the true threat and risk that addiction poses for individuals.

  • Lewis (21 years old). Lewis was a college student in England when he began to gamble online. He had started gambling when he was 18, but it was not until he attended college that his gambling became a habitual problem. He began spending more and more time after class, away from friends and other activities, to gamble online. Despite his initial winning streak, Lewis began to lose games, compelling him to dig deeper into his finances to feed his growing habit. Ultimately, he began using money his grandfather left for him in a trust, losing over $2,000 U.S. dollars in two months. Since that $2,000 dollar loss, when his mother found out about his problem gambling, Lewis has worked to control his urge to gamble, an urge which Lewis says “controls” you. 85
  • Eamonn McGirr (27 years old). Eamonn worked for Tyrone Tiling Services when he started embezzling company money to feed his online gambling addiction. Originally betting at sporting events, he eventually switched over to online blackjack which soon turned into addiction. Over a two year period, Eamonn wrote over 170 company checks, stealing over $450,000 U.S. dollars. Eamonn was sentenced to prison. He says that his addiction was dangerous because he could gamble thousands of dollars away with one single click and at one point Eamonn was making thousand of online transactions a day. 86
  • Ann. Ann told BBC reporters that she as a result of her addiction, she had lost the equivalent of over $100,000 U.S. dollars gambling. She says that “For years my life will be bleak, having to work 12 hours a day to pay it off and I'll be broke for years and years.” 87
  • Rob (50 years old). Rob, a recovering addict, commented that his addiction “progressed in a way that anything I had, I had to gamble…And I actually stole things in order to fuel my gambling.” 88 Saying that his addiction was like being “embedded in his own hell,” Rob relates that due to his addiction important relationships in his life strained and dissolved, he was unable to communicate with others, and he struggled working. 89
  • Mark Erickson. Mark was an accountant in Phoenix, Arizona who began placing online bets on sports. Becoming attached and addicted to online gambling, Mark accumulated approximately $400,000 U.S. dollars in debt. In order to feed his urges to gamble, Mark began stealing from clients and eventually left his family and evaded legal authorities for almost a month. Eventually turning himself in, Mark served a year in prison and currently works for a gambling helpline. Commenting on his addiction, Mark says that “I’ve hear other people compare it to a cocaine addiction, the high you get from that, and that’s the euphoria I felt…It becomes an all-consuming activity.” 90


Pathological or compulsive gambling is an addiction and professionals consider it a serious illness. Like those addicted to narcotics and alcohol, gambling addicts may need to seek out professional counseling and addiction recovery programs to help recover from addiction. Because of the immense family, financial, and mental-health damage gambling addiction leaves behind in its wake, medical authorities strongly urge those struggling with gambling addiction to seek professional help. The following resources are available as different types of treatment:

  1. Gambling addiction help-lines
  2. Psychotherapy 91
  3. Medication 92
  4. Financial counseling 93
  5. Support Groups 94
  6. 12-step programs 95
  7. Self-help techniques 96
  8. Addiction counseling
  9. Addiction recovery clinics
  10. Online support and recovery groups

Young Adult Gambling and Addiction

A majority of gambling addiction studies indicate that teenagers and college students have the highest rate of problem/pathological gambling. 97 Approximately 3%-11% of college students experience serious problems with gambling and in 2006 ABC News reported that half of all men in college gamble on a monthly basis. 98 99 GamCare, a UK charity which helps struggling gambling addicts, reports that they have seen a rise in college age students calling in for help with gambling-related debt and that a third of those the charity helps are young adults from ages 18-25. 100101

Why more prevalent among college students

Chief Executive of GamCare Andy McLellan says that college students are especially prone to the social aspect of gambling because “You’re away from home, it may well be the first time you are managing your own money, you don’t know anybody.” 102 He further describes how college students encountering new stresses and responsibilities turn to gambling in order to deal with life, as well engage in new and exciting social situations. 103 McLellan says that “it’s easy for them to [turn to online gambling] because they all have high speed internet access in their rooms.”104 Besides using gambling to deal with stress or engage with others in social settings, Adam Scarf of GamCare says “Young people just enjoy the buzz of gambling.”105 However, the Task Force on College Gambling Policies reported that “Research has shown that for a segment of college students, gambling for fun can turn into a serious preoccupation that adversely affects their lives.”106

How college kids get money to gamble

College students oftentimes struggle to find a source of income which will allow them to satisfy their urge to gamble. In order to feed their addiction, college students will sometimes dip into their own savings funds, funds set up by their parents or grandparents, school grants, borrow money from friends or financial institutions, or begin stealing money from friends, family, or employers. 107 108


As college students become entrapped in gambling addictions, the following is a list of consequences college students typically encounter:

  • Risk of being ejected from school109
  • Accumulation of massive debt110
  • Ruin relationships with friend or family111
  • Legal problems (usually resulting from some form of theft)

Child and Teen Propensity to Online Gambling

Gambling addiction wreaks havoc among adults and college-age students worldwide. While the consequences of gambling addiction are prevalent among adults, oftentimes addiction stems from habits formed earlier in life. The Oregon State Department of Human Services reports that in Oregon, one in ten teenagers are at risk for developing dangerous gambling habits, while one in twenty-five already is a problem gambler.112 Nationwide sixty to ninety percent of young people engage in gambling of one type or another.113 114 In the United States alone, there are a minimum of 60,000 teenagers who have gambling addiction problems. 115 Such high rates of teenager and child exposure to gambling is dangerous because individuals who gambled as teenagers are three times more likely to become pathological gamblers Oftentimes teenagers develop gambling problems two to four times more than adults.116 Children who develop gambling problems later in life many times will have begun gambling before they were fifteen, had a parent who was a problem gambler, associated with friends who gambled, or lacked parental supervision of their computer and Internet usage. 117

Why online gambling is dangerous for children

The popularity of online gambling in schools and the Internet proves to be especially dangerous for children for the following reasons:

  1. Easy access to online gambling = easy road to addiction. Online gambling’s wide availability and easy accessibility makes it readily available to children. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission researched and found that online casinos employ few gambling protective measures to keep children from gambling—20% of gambling sites give minors no warning at all about underage gambling prohibitions. 118 Children are exposed to gambling opportunities more than ever before because of the universality of the Internet. Speaking on the growing exposure of children to online gambling, British politician Don Foster fears that “There is a massive danger that…[online gambling] will fuel a huge increase in under-age gambling addiction.”119 Similarly Dr. Emanuel Moran, an adviser on gambling at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, claims that “We are in danger of allowing a generation of children to become addicted to gambling.” 120.
  2. Children can gamble online undetected. The ease and private nature of Internet usage makes online gambling especially dangerous because children and teenagers can gamble online secretly without their parents knowledge. A recent study was done in England, where researchers asked a sixteen-year old girl named Ruby to try and gain access to thirty-seven British online poker sites. She was able create accounts on thirty of the thirty-seven with no problem, despite the fact that she is underage. Ruby commented afterword that “Like most of my friends, I use my computer unsupervised in my bedroom and I think I’ve shown how easy it is for children to start gambling online and lose all their money without their parents ever being aware of it.”’121

Disconnects children from real value of money. Many websites offer “simulated” poker games which allow children to gamble with fake or virtual credit. After playing these simulated games, if children and teenagers switch to real poker games, they lose the sense of value for the money they are gambling with. 122 It is easy for a child to forget that behind every mouse-click and every virtual poker chip, lies a real amount of money accrued through someone’s efforts. Becoming desensitized at an early age to the real-life value of the numbers on the screen may become seeds for future pathological gambling problems.

Why children are attracted to it

Children and teenagers are especially vulnerable to the lure of online gambling. For one, children and teenagers generally don’t understand the money-value of their bets. To them it may seem like it is just numbers on a screen. 123

Children also engage with others in games across the Internet. These types of games include MMORPGs, virtual worlds, online communities, and social networks. Amongst all these virtual interactions and games, gambling becomes simply just another type of online game. And with the added allure of winning, children fin that gambling provides an enjoyable rush or “buzz.” 124

Other pressures, such as friends, examples from parents, or even from celebrities who gamble on TV, coerce and constrain children to try their hand in the gambling world. 125 126 127

Symptoms for Children

For parents, it is important to understand the signs and symptoms of children who may be dabbling in gambling activities. Though online gambling makes gambling habits harder to monitor, suggests the following indicators may mean a child is engaging in unsafe gambling habits: 128

  • Problems in school that include unexplained absences and poor grades
  • Borrowing or stealing money from parents and friends
  • Unexplainable debt or large amounts of cash
  • Constant requests for money (with no reason given)
  • Unauthorized charges on your credit card
  • Preoccupation with gambling
  • Selling personal belongings
  • Spending countless hours [online or] on online gambling sites
  • Sudden mood changes, including symptoms of depression, anxiety or stress
  • Poor sleep habits and hygiene
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities your teen used to enjoy
  • Use of alcohol and drugs
  • Engaging in illegal behaviors
  • Lying

Damage gambling does to kids

Gambling addiction in children and teenagers results in many consequences. Those children and teenagers who gamble are more likely to:

  1. Use drugs 129
  2. Develop dangerous drinking habits 130
  3. Engage in unsafe sexual habits 131

Lose interest in school 132

  1. Damage their own credit scores, and especially their parent’s credit scores 133
  2. Lose money and go into debt 134
  3. Destroy social and familial relationships
  4. Change in behavior or personality135
  5. Engage in illegal activities136
  6. Become problem or pathological gamblers later in life 137

How can I keep my child safe?

Despite the Internet’s ubiquitous nature, there are several safety measures that parents may take in order to protect their children from encountering online gambling sites.

1. Talk, talk, and talk. 138 suggests one of the most affective ways to protect children is to educate them before the problem arises.139 The US Federal Trade Commission suggests parents teach children the risk associated with online gambling. 140 They suggest that parents talk with their children about the following things: 141
2. You can lose your money. Online gambling operations are in business to make a profit. They take in more money than they pay out.”
3. You can ruin a good credit rating. Online gambling generally requires the use of a credit card. If kids rack up debt online, they could ruin their credit rating - or their parent's.”
4. Online gambling can be addictive. Because Internet gambling is a solitary activity, people can gamble uninterrupted and undetected for hours at a time. Gambling in social isolation and using credit to gamble may be risk factors for developing gambling problems.”
5. Gambling is illegal for kids. Every state prohibits gambling by minors. That's why gambling sites don't pay out to kids and go to great lengths to verify the identity of any winner.”

6. Use computer programs to block sites. These may include general web filters, but there are specific programs that target online gambling sites. 142 Filters which target online gambling include:

  • GamBlock
  •’s Secureweb
  •’s Install-Block
  • CyberPatrol Online Protection Pro

7. Keep track of childrens’ friends. By knowing the friends children or teenagers associate with and knowing their friend’s parents, can help parents know if their child or teenager will be introduce or around gambling.
8. Keep your computer in a public, high-traffic area. Pulling computers from the privacy of bedrooms and offices to somewhere open will help keep your kid safe. If your child knows that you can both see and hear anything that is happening in the game, the tendency to explore games that may be violent or sexual will greatly decrease.
9. Check history. Parents may feel like this is creeping into their children’s life, but checking a child’s browser history may help parents understand what sites the child is going to and if they are visiting online gambling sites. This is not intrusive, but a sign of concern and desire to protect children, especially if you maintain open lines of communication with your children and the expectations for Internet use in your home.