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Risks of Online Gambling

Sergio Zammit
Last updated: | 8 min read

Gambling can be enjoyed recreationally by most players. However, gambling isn’t without its risks. In addition to financial loss, players must consider the psychological risks related to addiction and mental health.

In this guide, we take a much closer look at the risks of gambling. We also highlight where to find help, should gambling become a problem.

An Introduction to Online Gambling


Although gambling has existed for thousands of years, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the industry joined the digital age. Today, there is an unparalleled number of online gambling sites. This offers almost immediate access to casino games, sports betting, poker, and much more.

Although online gambling makes the industry more accessible, it also increases the risk of harm. After all, it takes seconds to log into a gambling account and deposit funds.

Nonetheless, the online gambling industry has never been bigger. A recent GrandViewResearch study found that $65.53 billion was gambled online in 2022. By 2030, this is expected to increase to $153.57 billion. This figure could be understated, considering that US lawmakers continue to relax online gambling regulations.

The Psychological Risks of Online Gambling


The psychological risks of online gambling should not be understated.

Some of the warning signs to look for include:

  • Gambling Addiction: The most severe psychological risk is gambling addiction. This is where gambling becomes compulsive and uncontrollable. Gambling addiction leaves players in a ‘bubble’, where the financial and social consequences are no longer considered. Players in this category should stop gambling immediately and seek help.
  • Mental Health: A direct consequence of gambling addiction is mental health disorders. Some of the most common symptoms include anxiety and stress. This is associated with the extreme highs and lows of online gambling.
  • Social Withdrawal: Problem gamblers will also experience social withdrawal. This is where gambling supersedes anything else in the player’s life, including relationships with family and friends. These issues are exacerbated when gambling losses lead to financial issues.
  • Volatile Mood Swings: Online gambling can result in volatile mood swings. When players win, there’s a high feeling of euphoria. But losses can quickly turn to depression.
  • Impulse Control: Another psychological risk of online gambling is a lack of impulse control. The ease of depositing and gambling online means that players don’t have time to consider the consequences.
  • Financial Worry: Extended gambling losses will lead to financial worries for many. Problem gamblers will seek any financial means possible to continue gambling. This amplifies financial stress further, often resulting in debt.

The American Psychological Association offers further guidance on how gambling can negatively impact the brain.

Financial Risks


The financial risks of online gambling can be devastating. Therefore, players must consider the risk of substantial gambling losses. This means that life savings are at risk, considering how easy it is to deposit funds into an online casino.

Non-discretionary income is also at risk. This is income required for day-to-day expenses, such as rent, food, and transportation. Depending on the severity of the addiction, problem gamblers will often seek debt to fund their gambling endeavors. This usually starts with credit cards and overdrafts, before moving on to loans.

Once debt avenues have been maximized, problem gamblers will sometimes liquidate assets. This means homes, cars, and jewelry. According to a National Library of Medicine study, problem gamblers are also at increased risk of committing fraud and other acquisitive crimes. This can occur when there are no other means to fund the gambling addiction.

GambleAware provides further guidance on the financial risks of gambling.

Risk Factors


Research suggests that demographics can impact the risks of online gambling.

Let’s explore this viewpoint further.

Socioeconomic Status

Both ends of socioeconomic status can increase the risks of problem gambling. For example, those within the low-income bracket will often gamble online to improve their financial means. This means gambling to pay for things that players cannot afford.

Conversely, high-income earners will often gamble because they have higher disposable income. This means that losses can be substantial.

Gender

According to the BBC, men are over seven times more likely to become addicted to gambling. The report suggests that this is because men are greater risk-takers than women.

However, an increasing number of women are also facing problems with gambling. Research shows that this is often an escape from emotional problems.

Location

The risks of problem gambling increase significantly based on where players live. For example, the UK has one of the largest online gambling markets globally. Not only are online casinos and sportsbooks allowed to advertise, but UK players do not pay taxes on gambling winnings.

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In contrast, online gambling is prohibited in many countries, especially those in Asia. In many cases, players are unable to access online gambling sites due to government blocks. This vastly decreases the risks of problem gambling.

Psychological

Psychological factors can also play a role. For instance, individuals who enjoy taking risks are more likely to develop a gambling problem. This is also the case with thrill-seekers.

Conversely, risk-averse individuals are less likely to have problems with gambling. This demographic is more likely to view gambling negatively, meaning they don’t participate at all.

Culture and Religion

Cultures can also have an impact on the risks of online gambling. For instance, gambling is viewed as a taboo in certain regions, especially in Africa and the Middle East. What’s more, gambling is viewed as haram in the Islamic religion.

In contrast, online gambling is deeply ingrained in Western cultures, such as North America and Europe. This relaxed approach to gambling vastly increases the risk of addiction.

A UK government study explains more about the relationship between demographics and problem gambling.

Impact on Young People

Young people face increased risks of problem gambling. The Responsible Gambling Council explains that in particular, those in the 18-24 age bracket are at the highest risk. This is because the brain is still developing, meaning young people are more likely to make high-risk decisions.

Young people are often inexperienced at managing their finances. This can lead to irrational financial decisions, meaning gambling more than one can afford to lose.

Furthermore, the young demographic is also more likely to be influenced by peer pressure, not to mention online advertising. For instance, an increasing number of online gambling sites sponsor Premier League football teams.

There’s often a lack of awareness that problem gambling can have on a young person’s life, which amplifies the risks further.

The Responsible Gambling Council offers further guidance on the risks facing young gamblers.

Game Characteristics


The relationship between game characteristics and problem gambling is significant.

Speed of Gameplay

At its core, online gambling games can be played at a much faster pace than land-based casinos. Take blackjack as a prime example.

  • In a traditional casino, there are often several players at the same table.
  • This means that gameplay speed can be slow, as you need to wait for each player to make a decision.
  • In contrast, playing blackjack online is rapid.
  • You’ll be playing against a software dealer without any other players. This means games take seconds to complete.

Naturally, this vastly increases the risk of financial loss. Additionally, players who lose their online casino balance can simply make an instant deposit with a debit/credit card or e-wallet. This can be done without leaving the table.

This isn’t possible when gambling in a casino, as you’d need to visit the cashier or ATM to top up.

False Illusion of Control

Online gambling games often give players a false illusion of control. For instance, online keno games allow players to choose their own numbers. This can result in players thinking they have a greater chance of winning based on the numbers selected.

However, online gambling games are based on random number generators (RNGs), meaning outcomes are determined by an algorithm.

Audio and Visual Elements

Modern online gambling games make full use of audio and visual elements. These are designed to encourage continued gambling, as it offers increased ‘excitement’.

Themed slots increase gambling risks

For example, consider that many slot games are related to real-world themes, such as movies, TV shows, or sports. Add in the sound effects of ‘near-misses’, and this can further exacerbate gambling harm.

Increased Stakes for Feature Access

Online slots, in particular, often allow players to ‘purchase’ entry into a bonus or feature round. This often costs 100 times the player’s spin size, with no guarantee of the bonus landing a higher win.

Similarly, some slot games require players to bet a minimum spin size to be eligible for a progressive jackpot. In both examples, this increases the risk of problem gambling, considering players are required to risk more money.

For further reading, check out the peer-reviewed study; The relationship between structural characteristics and gambling behavior.

Resources for Help and Support


There are many online resources offering help and support for problem gambling risks.

Although organizations are aimed at domestic residents, information and assistance are typically available globally.

References

FAQs

What are the social risks of online gambling?

According to the Mental Health Foundation, some of the social risks of online gambling include anxiety, depression, financial stress, and low self-esteem. Problem gambling can also lead to alcohol and substance abuse.

What are the disadvantages of gambling games?

The main disadvantage of gambling games is that casinos/sportsbooks always have a statistical advantage over players. Over time, this will lead to financial loss.

Is online gambling bad for your mental health?

Online gambling can negatively impact mental health in many ways, including social avoidance, anxiety, volatile mood swings, and an inability to recognize financial consequences.