Online gambling offers players access to 24/7 betting opportunities, within the comfort of their own homes. It provides convenience, security and confidentiality. It is also a potentially lucrative market for operators and can provide a platform to promote responsible gambling behaviours including self-set spend limits, time outs and information.
The increased speed and ease of access to online gambling have led to rapid growth in this industry. This has led to a proliferation of advertisements and inducements, particularly during televised sports and racing events, in social media and through targeted push marketing.
These changes have been reported to foster impulsive gambling, persistence and loss-chasing amongst higher-risk online gamblers. Treatment-seekers, however, disproportionately reported the negative impact of these changes on their gambling, indicating that these changes undermined their self-regulatory efforts and were associated with increased risk of problematic gambling behaviours.
This research explored the effect of key industry changes on online gambling over the past decade and its influence on the gambling behaviours of treatment-seekers, who had been diagnosed with a gambling disorder. Data were obtained from self-selected purposive interview samples of ten treatment-seekers and two non-treatment-seekers, with each sample representing a different age group and experience of online gambling.
The findings of this study suggest that a number of industry changes, such as increased ease and speed of access to online gambling, the proliferation of advertisement and inducements, and the introduction of numerous innovated bet types have contributed to the development of behavioural problems in high-risk online gamblers. These changes have exacerbated harmful gambling behaviours, and are counter to stated policy and practice objectives to minimise gambling harm. Consequently, further consideration is required to ensure that gambling policy, industry practices and public health measures more effectively reduce gambling harm in contemporary settings.
A key focus should be on identifying the specific factors that encourage high-risk online gamblers to engage with gambling, and to develop strategies to target these individuals with harm minimisation tools. It is also important to consider whether and how a range of gambling behaviours are moderated by social, economic or environmental variables.
Increased gambling, impulsive gambling and loss-chasing are common amongst higher-risk online gamblers who struggle to maintain or regain control of their gambling. These gamblers have been identified as vulnerable to developing a gambling problem and are therefore at risk of experiencing behavioural harm, including financial destitution, anxiety and depression.
These behaviours are a key feature of addictive disorders and are considered to be an early marker of unsustainable gambling, and should be used as a basis for developing harm minimisation strategies. In addition, the poor pricing of complex bets and their outsized attraction to individuals with a gambling problem should be addressed as these individuals are often the most profitable customers.
The study’s findings suggest that the proliferation of advertising and inducements in social casino games may act as a gateway to online gambling for vulnerable adolescents. This is supported by the fact that participants who migrated from social casino gaming to online gambling did so in relatively short periods.