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By Nathan Bailey, MA, LPC

Watch any sporting event for more than 30 seconds and you’ll be bombarded with ads for online gambling. It is estimated that the revenue from online gambling in 2022 topped $100 Billion. The number of states allowing legal online gambling is growing rapidly. Keep in mind that illegal online gambling does exist and isn’t as hard to access as you’d think.

Gambling isn’t anything new but now that it’s online there are different dynamics contributing to an increase in problematic use. What this means is that even if an individual has enjoyed “traditional” gambling (casino, slot parlor, lottery etc.) outlets in the past without developing problematic use, the nature of online gambling has nuances creating different outcomes. Here’s five reasons why:

1. It’s at your fingertips

Gone are the days of having to hop in the car or walk down the street to gamble, now you just have to pull out your phone. Or your laptop. Or your tablet. You have many options, none of which involve any real effort. It’s available in your face 24-7, 365 days of the year. Ease of use certainly increases the likelihood of problematic use but also the barrier of entry is so low that there’s less opportunity to reflect, “catch yourself” or to otherwise have external indicators that your behavior is a problem. If you’re finding yourself in the car driving 3 hours to the casino you might come to see how this behavior is changing you vs. logging into an app that takes a fraction of a second.

2. It’s less physical

When you’re handing over chips or cash, there’s at least some physical, tangible sign of loss. You know your wallet is lighter or the pile of chips is decreasing etc. With online gambling, it’s just numbers on a screen. I once had someone tell me “I lost thousands of dollars in minutes because it felt more like I was playing a video game…there wasn’t any real connection to the fact that this was actual money.” Not being at a public location but in the privacy of your own home or car also helps reinforce this dynamic.

3. It’s more isolated

Not having others around you tends to increase the detachment from what you’re actually doing. Similar to #2, being on your own (which is often how people use online gambling) makes this activity much less concrete, decreases accountability and we often find ourselves being more risk-prone (chasing losses etc.) Even if the person next to you is also gambling, turning to them to lament your loss reinforces that loss and might help you stop. On your own, the ability to disengage from what’s occurring is just easier (and that’s a problem).

4. It’s easier to hide

It’s been said that problematic gambling (traditional) is often different from substance use in that it’s easier to hide and as such can be even more destructive. Online gambling is typically even less visible. This means that the behavior can continue and not be seen until significant damage has been done. Another thing to consider is that because online betting has surged in popularity it’s easier to hide in plain site. If many others in your social circle are using online gambling (and seemingly aren’t having a problem with it), someone might be even more reluctant to acknowledge that they have lost the ability to control it.

5. More incentives to get started

As this type of gambling is relatively new, companies are quick to get people introduced to the activity by offering credit or comps to get started. When you combine an attractive offer to “try” the activity for “free of charge” and you combine it with the ease of use described in #1, you now create a situation where people who never would have gone to a casino decide to give it a shot. There’s a mistaken belief that you can make a big score without having to put down any of your own money. Obviously these companies know exactly what they’re doing and they’re in it for the long-haul. 

Reach Out

If your or someone you know has gotten caught up in problematic gambling, there is recovery! Lime Tree Counseling has a team of professionals who have experience in providing addiction therapy, anxiety counseling, trauma counseling, grief therapy. We provide services from our office in Ambler, PA as well as online counseling in Pennsylvania, online counseling in North Carolina and online counseling in Colorado. Make today the day you reach out and schedule. Get the help you need to live the life you want.