Editor’s Note: The following is the first in a three-part series running today, Wednesday and Thursday on the grey area of offshore online gambling.
It’s being called the new crack cocaine of the gambling world, luring those already hooked on games of chance and making addicts of an entirely new generation of players.
Meet online gaming.
Dr. Nick Harris, a psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Memorial University of Newfoundland, has delved into the dark world of online gambling.
Last year, he and Lakehead University professor and psychologist Dr. Dwight Mazmanian published the results of their study, Cognitive Behavioural Group Therapy for Problem Gamblers who Gamble over the Internet: A Controlled Study, in the Journal of Gambling Issues.
According to Harris, who calls it the new crack, online gaming poses new challenges for those trying to kick their gambling addictions.
“You can play it so much quicker (than real-life gambling),” said Harris in an interview. “You can be online and play two or three games simultaneously. There are people who play online poker who can play six hands at once.
“The dopamine centres in their brains are constantly being rewarded,” he said.
The sheer pervasiveness of the internet makes it even harder for those addicted to online gaming to quit because the games are available at the touch of button on a smartphone screen.
“Once they gamble online, the easy access interferes with their ability to stop,” said Harris. “It’s not as easy as quitting a land-based venue.”
Another hurdle for gambling addicts is the wide variety of available online games. In Quebec, the Kahnawake First Nation’s servers alone carry 99 online gambling websites. There are reportedly thousands of such sites based in Cyprus, the Isle of Man, and Gibraltar.
But the Kahnawake Gaming Commission gives gamblers who are struggling with addiction an out.
“The commission has a comprehensive program for players who want to exclude themselves from playing on any site licensed by the commission,” said Murray Marshall, general counsel to the Kahnawake Gaming Commission.
“The commission’s program is among the best, if not the best, such programs in the world.”
Certainly, gamblers can ask to be excluded from some of these online gaming sites or have lower limits placed on the amount they can gamble.
“There are other strategies people can use: limiting their credit card access; limiting their ability to make payments online, and; limiting their Wi-Fi access,” said Harris.
Last year, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission received about 130 self-exclusion requests. Of these, 21 were sent to the operators of the websites and another 48 self-exclusion requests had incomplete information and so were still pending when the commission issued its most recent report. By the end of 2016, the Kahnawake Gaming Commission issued 59 self-exclusion directives and forwarded them to all its licensees.
A drawback to those measures, though, is that gamblers can always just change their minds and restore their Wi-Fi settings or ask to be let into the games again at a later date.
Not everyone who filed a self-exclusion request to the Kahnawake Gaming Commission last year was looking to avoid the clutches of gambling websites. Five of the requests were from gamblers looking to get back onto the websites after being excluded.
But the danger of online gaming isn’t just in its ease of access and addictive nature.
Experts warn that online gaming also makes it very, very easy to lose a lot of money quickly.
“They can lose tens of thousands of dollars very quickly,” said Harris. “You can get yourself in debt.
“With a land-based casino, it’s limited as to the amount of credit you can get,” he said. “With online gaming … it’s much more excessive. I’ve seen people lose as much as $60,000.”
Financial losses of that magnitude can be enough to send a gambler’s life into a tailspin.
“People’s lives become unravelled. They lose their homes and their families,” said Harris. “It negatively impacts their jobs.”
Although the responsibility for regulating gambling in Canada is in the hands of the provinces, online gaming is a worldwide and growing phenomenon.
In her Prevalence of Online Gambling study, Sylvia Kairouz, the Concordia University research chair on gambling studies in Montreal, showed three years ago that in countries where online gambling was first legalized, it quickly became popular.
Roughly one in seven Brits over the age of 16 had already used online gaming websites in 2010 and so had almost one in 10 Swedes in that same age group, revealed Kairouz’s study.
In Canada where governments have taken a harder stance on online gaming, only 2.1 per cent of the adult population had used these gambling websites a decade ago. The comparable figure for the United States was just one per cent.
The Concordia University researcher’s study used data gathered at different times in countries throughout the world and provinces in Canada, making many side-by-side comparisons problematic.
But it’s clear from that study that Atlantic Canadians are far less likely to be enamoured of online gaming than people in other countries or regions of Canada.
Surveys from 2009 showed that Albertans were then more than three times as likely to gamble online as New Brunswickers and more than seven times as likely as Newfoundlanders. Other surveys two years previously had shown that British Columbians were then 15 times more likely to bet online than were Bluenosers.
And, according to Kairouz, it seems the big growth spurt for online gaming is showing signs of a slowdown.
“We did our surveys in 2009 and again in 2013 in Quebec and it was pretty stable,” she said. “There’s been no dramatic increase in online gaming over the last four to five years.”
Gambling addiction is estimated to affect between two and three per cent of Canadians, said Harris.
Tomorrow: Meet Ernest. He likes taking chances in gambling’s grey area – the offshore. Online games like betting on individual sporting events, poker and other casino games might be off limits to Atlantic Lotto and other organizations to host but they are his preferred playground when it comes to gambling.