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Lack of U.S. Regulation Increases Problem Gambling


by Hillary LaClair, Senior Editor
January 3, 2009

                Despite anti-gaming laws, online casinos continue to thrive in the U.S. Experts say that the largely unregulated industry, 1,300 websites strong, is contributing to an increase in problem gaming in the U.S. In 1997, studies showed that casinos earned a revenue of $650 million annually – a number that has increased to $2 billion in the following years.

                The lack of U.S. regulated online casinos forces gamblers into the arms of shady operations who operate on offshore servers. As such, these operations can fold and run virtually overnight when suspected of fraud. Many closely monitored internet casinos, with age restrictions, deposit limits and self-exclusion policies have been made unavailable to U.S. players. Currently, an estimated $5 billion is spent on problem gamblers in the U.S. every year.

                American youths are most commonly affected by unregulated internet casinos, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Gambling rates are highest for people in their teens and twenties. A monitored industry could mean higher age restrictions and enforcement in the U.S. that is desperately needed for some. Nearly every regulated internet casino now requires a valid form of identification in order to deposit money, in most cases a valid photo ID. Additionally, many of these establishments allow their users to put a deposit or spending limit on their account, to prevent such occurrences. Some casinos have even implemented a self-exclusion policy, where users can opt to have the casino decline their account for a period of time – an option that is rarely available in land counterparts.

                “Most of the time parents aren’t monitoring what their kids are doing on the internet, so they’re just sort of free to gamble their heart’s content,” says Jean Stringer, MFT, a marriage and family counselor.

                Approximately 10 to 15 percent of U.S. and Canadian youths say that they’ve dealt with issues related to gambling. In this group, 1 to 6 percent are believed to have gambling addictions – showing several signs of problem gambling, such as preoccupation with gaming, the need to increase their bets every time, restlessness when not gambling, using internet casinos to escape from “difficult emotions,” and chasing losses with further wagers.

                Advancing technology has now allowed for several university students, as well as high school students, a credit card at their disposal – a vital instrument in gambling online. According to an article in littleabout.com, credit cards are the “mechanism that makes rolling the internet dice possible,” and that young people are “easily lured by the power of the plastic cards issued be fiercely competitive finance companies lending money at sky high rates.”

                “You invest a small amount of money, and you receive a large return. Once that happens, there’s a reinforcement element,” Stringer added. “There’s an element of denial. There has to be a certain commitment to realizing you have a problem and really wanting to stop it.”

                Stringer concludes, “I think there should be more education in the schools to warn young people {about} the potential effects of gambling on the internet.”