Harvard study debunks online gambling fears


One of the biggest arguments against online gambling is that it is thought to have the "inherent propensity" to cause problem gambling. A study done by the Harvard Medical School's Division of Addictions doesn't support that claim.

The study, "Assessing the Playing Field: A Prospective Longitudinal Study of Internet Sports Gambling Behavior," takes a look at the betting activities of more than 40,000 individuals with the help of Bwin's betting site.

Time spent gambling, frequency of placing bets and amount of money wagered were some of the factors considered by the Division of Addictions for the study, and they found that the online gambler's activity levels were moderate.

"The findings reported here do not support the speculation that Internet gambling has an inherent propensity to encourage excessive gambling among a large portion of players," the report says.

This is different from what most people self-report. The study gives a possible explanation for the difference:

"One reason that our findings, derived from actual gambling behavior, might be different from people's self-reported online gambling behavior and/or researchers' speculations is that people's recollection of losses are likely to be particularly salient and often inaccurate. This salience might bias self-recalled estimates of amounts spent gambling."

The Harvard study focuses on online sports betting, but it presents itself as taking the first step toward a larger analysis in the future that would include casino games and online poker.

The study is notable, however, because of its focus specifically on online gambling, whereas most studies look at gambling in general with online gambling as a factor, not the focus.

A study specifically on online gambling activities and their impact is exactly what Rep. Shelly Berkley is proposing in the U.S. House of Representatives with bill H.R. 2140.

She introduced the bill May 3, 2007, which seeks to provide for a study by the National Academy of Sciences to identify the proper response of the United States to the growth of Internet gambling. While the Harvard study took a look at sports betting behaviors, but not necessarily gambling pathology related to problem gambling, Berkley's proposed study is much more extensive.

Issues proposed to be considered include:

  • A review of existing Federal, State, tribal, local, and international laws governing various forms of wagering over the Internet, the effectiveness of such laws, and the extent to which such provisions of law conform or do not conform with each other
  • An assessment of the proliferation of Internet gambling, including an analysis of its availability and use within the United States
  • A determination of the impact of Internet gambling on minors and compulsive gamblers and the availability of regulatory and technological safeguards to prevent or mitigate these impacts
  • A determination of the extent to which terrorists and criminal enterprises are utilizing Internet gambling for fraud and money laundering purposes and the availability of regulatory and technological safeguards to prevent or mitigate these impacts
  • An assessment of the impact of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act on the availability and use within the United States of Internet gambling, and on the adverse effects of Internet gambling
  • An assessment of recent technological innovations and the practices of other nations and international bodies that license and regulate Internet gambling, and the practicality of using similar systems to establish a legal framework in the United States
  • An analysis of the issues of federalism that are presented by legislative and administrative proposals designed to address the proliferation of illegal Internet gambling, given the interstate and international character of the Internet as a medium, and the potential for State and tribal governments to create a legal and regulatory framework for online gambling within their jurisdictions or among those jurisdictions where online gambling is legal
  • An assessment of the problems posed by unregulated international Internet gambling to United States interests and the potential means, if any, by which the Federal Government may seek international cooperation in addressing these concerns
  • An analysis of the potential impact of recent World Trade Organization rulings regarding Internet gambling and the long-term impact on existing and future United States trade agreements under the General Agreement on Trade and Services
  • An analysis of the potential tax revenue that could be generated by a legal, licensed, regulated Internet gambling industry in the United States

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