Now that we are in the midst of March Madness, many college hoops fans have a stake in a work or neighborhood bracket of teams, in hopes of a payoff.
Increasingly, participation can be in online brackets or, during the football/baseball seasons, a fantasy sports league. But a new study warns that however innocuous such pursuits may appear, for someone with a gambling addiction, they can be a dangerous temptation. And young people may find it particularly harmful.
“Now, with states entertaining the possibility of increasing revenue through legalizing Internet gambling, it is even more important to pay attention to groups that may be vulnerable to problem gambling, particularly youth,” said Renee Cunningham-Williams, Ph.D., gambling addictions expert and associate professor at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Internet gambling provides youth with increased opportunities to gamble, which is particularly concerning because this generation is arguably the most technologically savvy of any generation in history.”
Cunningham-Williams said young people are still transiting a period of risk for many mental disorders, while coming of age in an environment of increased acceptability and accessibility to gambling.
“Based on available research, it is unclear if the Internet contributes to more gambling problems, but we know that those who choose to gamble using the Internet and experience problems are often involved in other forms of gambling as well,” she says.
“The Internet may make gambling opportunities more attractive, accessible and available.”
Cunningham-Williams agreed with the National Council on Problem Gambling’s position that advocates a harm-reduction public health approach to problem gambling. “Such an approach recognizes that strong regulation is necessary but not sufficient,” she said.
“We need a comprehensive strategy that involves prevention and education about the harms associated with illegal and problem gambling, effective treatment, and continued research. We do not currently have a lead federal agency to advocate for efforts to reduce the harm associated with problem gambling.”
Cunningham-Williams said that although most Americans gamble without significant problems, for those who do experience problems, and the even larger at-risk groups, the individual, familial and social costs are devastating.