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Poker News | World Poker News

Harvard Professor Dispels Online Gambling Addiction Myth

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The biggest opponents to online poker bills and online gambling in general cite one reason for their opposition: if gamblers have access online, it will increase gambling addiction or make problem gambling worse. That line of thinking is flawed and a myth says a recent study by Harvard Medical School’s Division on Addictions.

The division released a report called the “Disordered Gambling: Etiology, Trajectory, and Clinical Considerations, which examines the causes and prevalence of problem gambling. The study is an exploration of the root causes of problem gambling and concludes that even though gambling is more accessible, problem gambling has remained the same as it was before the expansion of gambling in the USA.

Howard Shaffer, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School co-wrote an article with colleague Ryan Martin which was published in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology. Their findings were that just because gambling may be more accessible via land based casinos, Internet casinos, lotteries and race tracks; doesn’t mean problem gambling has increased. "The current available evidence," they found, "suggests that the rate of PG (pathological gambling) has remained relatively stable during the past 35 years despite an unprecedented increase in opportunities and access to gambling."

Shaffer, one of the country's leading experts on gambling and other addictions, was recently interviewed by the Chicago Tribune where he stated, "When gambling becomes newly available in an area, you'll see some increase in gambling." he added, "Some people who would not have gambled become willing to try." First time gamblers testing the waters especially holds true when legal gambling is introduced to an area for the first time, but the factual long term effect is contrary to popular myth.

Shaffer stated, at first, he expected problem gambling to be increasing due to availability, "I was so wrong about this when I started this work." Instead he found that, "people gambling on the Internet change from gambling more to less in weeks. We never would have predicted that."

Online poker opposition likes to spread the myth that online access would allow people to wager on games of chance which would be especially dangerous because it is anonymous, immune to supervision and accessible anytime, anywhere. One published myth, "With virtual casinos entering the homes of millions every day, the chances for addiction are only going to increase," is used as a warning by CRC Health Group, which offers treatment for problem gambling.

Shaffer’s previous work in this area has been used by Internet poker opponents to claim that Internet poker is a gateway to addiction, but Prof. Schaffer’s latest study clearly demonstrates that this is not the case

"We expected it to be the Wild West of gambling, people could sit in front of a computer with a credit card and just go,” says Shaffer. But the study found that even in countries where gambling online is legal, "people discover it isn't that much fun to gamble alone," Shaffer said. The exception may be people who have social problems and prefer not to socialize but over all, "The extent of Internet gambling for most is astoundingly moderate."

Shaffer was also surprised to learn that unlike other addictions, in most cases, problem gambling is not "a relentless progressive disorder." And for the vast majority of people who gamble, control comes easy and the fact is that "Problem gamblers are more likely to get better than worse." The report by Shaffer suggests that excessive gambling is not a highly contagious malady that can infect anyone who enters a casino, but instead is usually a symptom of some other underlying disorder."  Of people in the U.S. with gambling problems, about 75 percent had a mental health problem first and a gambling problem second," Shaffer noted.

As far as making online poker illegal, prohibition is pointless and doomed to fail. People who gamble will find a way and even if there were no place to gamble, “some problem gamblers would have difficulties with gambling or something else even if there were no legal gambling available."

The result of the study is that the epidemic of pathological gambling due to more availability is highly exaggerated. As the studies found, about 5 percent of Americans will ever have a gambling problem. Compare that with roughly 8.5 percent who suffer from alcohol abuse, 25 percent who smoke cigarettes and 30 percent who admit to abusing drugs either now or in the past. With percentages like that, it is a safe bet that playing poker online doesn’t contribute to serious social side effects like other addictions do.

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