Online gambling speeds addiction
By staff
Clinicians have claimed that Internet gambling is threatening to produce a new generation of compulsive gamblers. Speaking at the seminar, 'Addiction Issues: The Relationship between Substance Abuse and Problem Gambling,' clinician and training consultant Kevin O'Neill said that Internet gambling fits the profile for compulsive gamblers because it provides action and escape for players. He said technology will change betting habits, just the way slot machines, keno, scratch-off games and lotteries have changed the gambling industry over time.

O'Neill said that although gambling online is illegal in the United States, he suspects a widespread problem because anecdotal evidence suggests that many people gamble on the Internet not knowing it is illegal or not caring because the government hasn't been prosecuting players.

He called for additional research into the real effects of Internet play on compulsive and problem gamblers, additional awareness of the problem by criminal justice and mental health professionals and better responsible gambling policies and links to help centers by the online casinos operating offshore.

'But isn't Internet gambling illegal?' one clinician asked O'Neill.

'I think most people perceive that it is,' O'Neill said, 'but the response from the players is, 'Who cares?' And they are absolutely right. Very few people care. The Justice Department won't even prosecute it.'

O'Neill said that increased media coverage has produced thousands of stories about Internet gambling, broadening its appeal. The most popular form of online gambling is betting on sports, he said, because bettors can watch the outcome of the games and know whether they should be paid.

Carol O'Hare, executive director of the Nevada council, equated the Internet to the advent of high-speed trains.

'We're narrowing the gap between the person and the activity,' she said. 'We're narrowing the distance to access the (compulsive) behavior.'

She said the accessibility of gambling has gotten easier with the advent of the home PC and Internet. The only way it will become even more accessible, she said, will be new Internet technologies such as hand-held devices and cellular telephones.

'Part of battling addiction is putting up barriers and we're actually reducing the barriers,' she said. 'We were going 10 miles an hour (toward addictive behavior). Now, we're able to go 100 miles an hour.'

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