How the Internet Changed the Face of Gambling – And How You Can Overcome it

female frustrated over losing on online casino

There’s no question about it – the internet has completely changed how people gamble. The traditional image of smoky rooms, green felt tables, and slot machines has been largely replaced with computer screens, mobile devices, and virtual reality interfaces. Never before has gambling been so accessible, so tempting, and so much easier to keep secret.  

Despite the huge cost this pastime places on society, the online gambling industry has more than doubled in the last four years. In 2023, it hit 176M users and $95B in revenue. Broadly legal, frequently advertised, and often glamourized by the media, it’s almost impossible to ignore – all too easily can a “bit of fun” turn into a full-fledged addiction. 

If you struggle with a gambling addiction, you’ll be aware of how the digital age has made recovery more challenging. However, many methods can help you resist temptation and build a gambling-free life. 

In this article, we’ll explore how the internet altered the gambling landscape, along with the best methods for abstinence and what treatments are available for those with a gambling addiction. When it comes to your health and well-being, let’s take no chances! 

The history of gambling

Gambling is as old as civilization – in fact, it’s older. Man has been casting lots before written history, as far back as the Palaeolithic period. While the earliest 6-sided dice date back to around 3000 BC, experts believe gambling’s origins lie in divination (predicting the future through supernatural means). Of course, it wasn’t long before our ancestors began betting on the outcomes. 

As society advanced, so did how people gambled. Ancient civilizations, from Egypt to China to Rome, developed games of chance that not only predicted the future but served as popular pastimes. The Ancient Romans were particularly fond of gambling, and despite laws against it, the practice was widespread among both the nobility and the common people. Similarly, in Ancient China, gambling houses were common, and betting on fighting animals was a popular form of entertainment.

The middle ages introduced new forms of this tempting pastime, including wagering on the outcomes of duels, wars, and even papal elections. Casinos (as we know them today) started to take shape in 17th-century Italy, with the establishment of the first known European gambling house, the Ridotto in Venice. As the centuries rolled on, these establishments grew in popularity, spreading across Europe and eventually reaching American shores.

Then came the internet. Traditional forms of gambling migrated online, and a variety of internet-specific gambling methods emerged, like online poker rooms and virtual casinos. Today, anyone with a smartphone or computer can participate in a myriad of betting games, from digital slot machines to virtual reality poker. 

Despite its many historical changes and iterations, the core nature of gambling – risking something of value on an uncertain outcome – remains the same. Whether it’s ancient civilizations casting lots or modern individuals placing bets online, gambling remains a pervasive aspect of human culture.

The dark side of the digital revolution – the internet’s impact on gambling

The rise of the internet has left an indelible mark on nearly every industry, with both constructive and destructive consequences. Mirroring the video gaming industry, the gambling sector has experienced stark transformations. As you can imagine, these are intensifying concerns about the negative impacts of gambling. Let’s explore some aspects of this widespread issue. 

Excessive accessibility

Close Up Of Person With Addiction To Online Gambling Or Shopping Using Credit Card And Mobile Phone

Before the Internet, gambling activities were mainly confined to brick-and-mortar establishments, inherently limiting their accessibility. Now these physical boundaries have been swept away, enabling people to gamble from their homes or mobile devices. In general terms, accessibility is often framed positively. However, concerning gambling, it can facilitate problematic behaviour that leads to addiction.

To add to this, the emergence of innovative payment models – including “free-to-play” systems and subscription services – can make online gambling seem deceptively affordable. But the hidden costs of in-game purchases and continuous betting can quickly accumulate, leading to financial instability and distress.

The creativity and proliferation of online gambling platforms, once thought to democratise the industry, have instead provided an ever-growing array of avenues for addictive behaviours. The multitude of options could be overwhelming, leading to an ongoing quest for the next win and further fueling addiction.

Advertising

Another issue with gambling in the modern age is the prevalence of advertising. Unlike cigarettes, there’s little regulation preventing gambling entities from reeling in vulnerable people. 

The impact of advertising on problem gambling is a complex and widely debated issue. According to a comprehensive report commissioned by the Responsible Gambling Fund, there’s evidence to suggest that advertising can influence perceptions of gambling among vulnerable groups, like adolescents and problem gamblers, and may trigger pathological gamblers to act on their impulses, worsening their issues.

Advertising can also be more insidious than most people realise, as is evidenced by the success of Gacha games. Mostly developed in Japan, these are a type of video game that implements the “gacha” (capsule-toy vending machine) mechanic. Players spend in-game currency, often bought with real money, to receive a randomised virtual item, character, or “skin”.

The disguised nature of gacha games often leaves them unchecked by parents, potentially enabling children to spend excessive, unsupervised time on these platforms. Such early exposure to gambling-like mechanisms can lead to detrimental consequences such as relationship conflicts, juvenile misconduct, depression, and a serious addiction. To add fuel to the fire, many streamers frequently advertise these games to their young viewers.

Distorted social experiences

Platforms like Twitch may give the illusion of a community, but they can’t replicate the nuances of face-to-face interactions. While streaming platforms often have a positive social impact (in some cases helping viewers cope with challenges), the digitization of social interactions can have negative consequences. They contribute to isolation and a skewed sense of reality, exacerbating the mental health challenges often associated with problem gambling. 

Moreover, the increased choice offered by online gambling can lead to decision fatigue and, paradoxically, a sense of dissatisfaction. While there are countless games and betting options available, the constant hunt for something better can prove fruitless, leading to increased stress and frustration.

Technological advancements fuel problem gambling

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) present new potential pitfalls. By making the online gambling experience more immersive and engaging, these technologies could make it easier for people to lose touch with reality, making the line between their virtual and real worlds increasingly blurry.

Despite initial hurdles like high costs and subpar gameplay, advancements in AR and VR technologies are making them more accessible and appealing. This increased accessibility could make online gambling even more enticing, amplifying the risk of addiction.

The psychology of gambling

young sad man sitting by the window in regret

If you’ve ever gambled, or have struggled with a gambling addiction, you’ll know the feeling of the gambler’s fallacy. This is a false belief where you incorrectly assume a past sequence or result of a random event can influence the likelihood of a subsequent event. Essentially, you overestimate your chances of winning. Think of it like an optical illusion but for your decision-making process. This illusion is often reinforced by what experts call “near-misses” and an “illusion of control”. 

A near-miss (i.e., your chosen number being adjacent to the roulette ball’s landing spot) can make you feel you were “close” to winning, pushing you to try again. While the “illusion of control” is a belief that you can influence the result in a game of chance, such as by throwing the dice a certain way or choosing the “lucky” slot machine. 

Both near-misses and the illusion of control can make you stick around longer, playing more and placing bigger bets. This isn’t too different from a substance use disorder – the promise of a high or a win keeps you in the loop. 

How to overcome modern gambling 

As we’ve shown, navigating the world of modern gambling can be a complex journey. From online casinos to mobile betting apps, today’s technology has seamlessly integrated gambling into our daily lives. 

However, most who suffer from a gambling addiction do want to heal. As this study points out, while gambling treatment-seeking rates are low, self-change attempts are high. It can be tricky to take steps toward recovery when issues like shame and comorbidities prevent you from seeking the help you need. But help is always at hand. In this next section, we’ll discuss several strategies for overcoming gambling.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) 

CBT is a type of psychotherapy that teaches you how to change your thought patterns and behaviours. It’s particularly effective in treating gambling addictions because it enables you to identify and challenge your beliefs about luck, control, and “winning” in relation to gambling – and elicits behavioural change.

Self-help groups 

Men and women sitting in a circle during group therapy, clapping.

Joining a support group like Gamblers Anonymous can be extremely beneficial. It provides a safe environment where you can share your experiences, learn from others, and receive encouragement and support. 

For similar reasons, group therapy can also be helpful for those dealing with a gambling addiction, as it provides a supportive space where you can be open about your struggles and enhance self-awareness and insight through the shared experiences.  

Medication 

Some people with a gambling addiction may benefit from medication. Certain antidepressants and mood stabilisers can help alleviate symptoms that often go hand in hand with gambling addictions, such as depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or ADHD.

Self-exclusion programs 

Online platforms often offer self-exclusion tools where individuals can limit or entirely block their access to gambling sites for a set period of time.

Education 

Learning about the nature of gambling, particularly online gambling, can be instrumental in recovery. This can include understanding how gambling works, recognizing its risks, and being aware of how internet gambling websites draw people in.

Financial counselling 

Gambling can lead to severe financial problems. This can lead to stress, anxiety, and the exacerbation of symptoms, making recovery trickier. Professional financial advice can help to manage debts and set up a budget, allowing you to fully focus on treating your addiction. 

Mindfulness and meditation 

Mindfulness practices can help manage cravings, reduce stress, and increase self-control. They can be especially helpful for providing you with the inner tools to resist urges to gamble. The added guidance of a professional (as in the case of mindfulness therapy), has also been shown to be effective at treating problem gambling.

Lifestyle changes 

Regular exercise, a healthy diet, good sleep, and other positive lifestyle changes are an essential foundation for all forms of recovery. The benefits of all have been widely reported – as shown by this study assessing the effects of exercise on male problem gamblers. By improving mood, reducing stress, boosting energy, and much more, making positive changes to your daily routines will bolster your recovery journey. 

Centers for Health and Healing – experts in recovery

As the landscape of gambling changes, we’re constantly evolving to meet the challenges of those dealing with addiction. Our experienced team integrates the latest research and techniques to offer a holistic, individualised treatment approach.

Our luxury facilities offer serene environments that provide the space, relaxation, and healing necessary for recovery. At Centers for Health and Healing, we focus on not just addressing the addiction but also the underlying psychological and emotional issues. Our diverse therapies work hand in hand with community-building activities and life skills development, forming a comprehensive approach.

At Centers for Health and Healing, we’re not just experts but dedicated partners in your journey to well-being. Come and discover a healthier, balanced life with us. 

If you’d like to talk to us about gambling addiction, our approach to addiction treatment, or anything else related to this article, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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