Rise in online gambling puts punters at risk

Internet gambling is enjoying a surge in popularity among Australian punters. AAP/Julian Smith

The convenience and comfort of betting from home is driving a surge in internet gambling, according to a large survey of punters that found half of those who wager online have taken it up since 2006.

Academics at Southern Cross University who led the study, the biggest to be conducted into online betting in Australia, canvassed the views and habits of more than 6682 gamblers across the country. Their findings are published in the journal Computers In Human Behavior.

About half of the participants said they were attracted by the convenience and 24-hour access of internet gambling, and roughly a third said the lack of crowds and unpleasant people, and greater privacy and anonymity, were the main appeal.

Of almost 4700 who said they had bet online at least once in the previous year, only 200 had tried internet gambling in 1995, but half - or about 2300 - took it up in the past five years.

The research showed internet gamblers were not more likely to be problem gamblers than those who gambled elsewhere, but they did appear to be at higher risk of developing problems, said the leader of the study, Sally Gainsbury, from the Centre for Gambling Education and Research at Southern Cross University.

“Internet gambling poses unique risks to players; it is constantly available and people can play online in private with relative anonymity.

"The use of electronic funds did increase spending for some players and may create negative consequences for some people.”

Participants were most likely to use the internet for race wagering (50.1%) and sports betting (38.8%), followed by internet casino games (15.8%), poker (8.3%) and lottery (8.0%).

The majority (60.2%) reported gambling from midday to 6pm, with a further 28.4% gambling between 6pm and midnight. Most (84%) preferred to use computers for internet gambling. Only 5.5% preferred to gamble online with their mobile phone.

Internet gamblers were also more likely to work full-time and have higher levels of education and household income than non-internet gamblers, Dr Gainsbury said.

She added that internet gamblers had more positive views about gambling than people who only punted at casinos or in gaming lounges at pubs and clubs.

“This is not surprising as they are more heavily involved in almost all forms of gambling, except gaming machines, than non-internet gamblers.

"However, there are risks to internet gambling: it is easier to spend more money online and about a third of players stated that it was too convenient.

"Other risks relate to playing on offshore sites. Only about 10% of internet gamblers appeared concerned about the legality of the sites they played on or where they were located. This is of concern as they may be subject to fraud or cheating, or lose their deposits and have no recourse as the operators are located offshore.”

Internet gambling was increasing in Australia and would have a substantial impact on the nature and experience of gambling for many in the future, she said. “It is important that reforms consider this mode of gambling and efforts be made to ensure a safe playing environment exists for Australians.”

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