Although the USA has taken a hard line on internet gambling, outlawing it completely in October 2006, most European governments have adopted the totally opposite approach and are continuing to liberalise online gambling legislation; making it a lucrative market for online gambling operators.
Even though Britain has one-fifth of the population of the USA, it spends as much as Americans on gambling, according to figures issued by the Global Betting and Gaming Consultants (GBGC). And much of that UK spend is now taking place online. So, what attracts online gamblers and are there are any dangers involved?
The basis of America’s ban on online gambling stems from a report issued by the National Gambling Impact Study Commission in 1999 MEGAGAME. The major finding in that study highlighted the fact that ‘the presence of a gambling facility within 50 miles roughly doubles the prevalence of problem and pathological gamblers’. Obviously, with the rise of online gambling that ‘gambling facility’ is sited within the home. So – the argument goes – that gives rise to more gambling opportunities and therefore the possibility that more people will become compulsive gamblers. They are obsessed with gambling, and winning doesn’t minimize that compulsion; the more they win, the more they play. Worse still, the more they lose the more they play to try to recover their losses until the point where their habit becomes unaffordable, and they go under financially.
But, despite the dire warnings from the USA, the vast majority of people who participate online can control their gambling and play comfortably within their means. For most, online gambling is a form of entertainment from which they get a buzz and occasionally a win. The fact that games can be played in the comfort of the home obviously adds to the attraction. Sophisticated software can now replicate the casino experience; full-colour graphics and convincing sound putting the player in the heart of the action, even if in reality they are in front of their computer screen. And because of the rapid uptake in online gambling, revenues are increasing allowing a percentage of it to be returned to players as bigger jackpots and prizes, which in turn attracts even more players.
As well as the comfort and convenience factor, another issue that has lead to a massive uptake in online gambling is the introduction of a ban on smoking in all public places. Rather than head off to their local bingo hall or casino and have to endure the rain and cold while they smoke, many UK punters have opted to stay at home and play online. That is a significant factor driving an increasing number of women to sign up to bingo games. Online gambling may be illegal in the USA, but evidence from Europe is that it is here to stay and will continue to thrive into the foreseeable future