Characteristics and help-seeking behaviors of internet gamblers based on most problematic mode of gambling


Previous studies of problem Internet gamblers have failed to distinguish whether their problem gambling relates to Internet or land-based gambling modes. Therefore, characteristics and help-seeking behaviors of people whose gambling problems relate specifically to Internet gambling are unknown, but could inform the optimal alignment of treatment and support services with the needs and preferences of problem gamblers.

Objective: This study aimed to compare:
1) characteristics of problem Internet gamblers and problem land-based gamblers and;
2) uptake of different types and modes of help between problem Internet gamblers and problem land-based gamblers. Hypothesis 1 was that problem Internet gamblers are less likely to seek help. Hypothesis 2 was that problem Internet gamblers are more likely to use online modes of help.

A sample of 620 respondents meeting criteria for problem gambling was drawn from an online survey of 4594 Australian gamblers. Respondents were recruited through advertisements on gambling and gambling help websites, Facebook, and Google. Measures consisted of gambling participation; proportion of gambling on the Internet; most problematic mode of gambling; help seeking from 11 different sources of formal help, informal help, and self-help for gambling problems; psychological distress (Kessler 6); problem gambling severity (Problem Gambling Severity Index, PGSI); and demographics.

Problem Internet gamblers were significantly more likely than problem land-based gamblers to be male (χ21=28.3, P<.001, φ=0.21), younger (t616.33=4.62, P<.001, d=0.37), have lower psychological distress (χ21=5.4, P=.02, φ=0.09), and experience problems with sports and race wagering (χ24=228.5, P<.001, φ=0.61). Uptake of help was significantly lower among problem Internet compared to problem land-based gamblers (χ21=6.9, P<.001, φ=0.11), including from face-to-face services, gambling helplines, online groups, self-exclusion from land-based venues, family or friends, and self-help strategies. Both problem Internet and problem land-based gamblers had similarly low use of online help. However, problem land-based gamblers (37.6%, 126/335) were significantly more likely to have sought land-based formal help compared to problem Internet gamblers (23.5%, 67/285; χ21=14.3, P<.001, φ=0.15).

The findings suggest that more targeted and innovative efforts may be needed to increase use of gambling help by problem Internet gamblers. Alternatively, their lower PGSI and K6 scores suggest Internet problem gamblers may have less need for gambling-related help. This is the first known study to classify problem Internet gamblers as those whose problem gambling specifically relates to Internet gambling. Further research is needed to better understand why help-seeking rates are lower among Internet problem gamblers.

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