The Harvard Medical School Addictions Division's epidemiological study of gambling addiction, which showed that online gambling is not the horror story its detractors claim it to be, has received wide industry and mainstream media coverage this week. One of the major organisations commenting on the findings is the European Gambling and Betting Association, which counts most major European online gambling firms among its members.
The Association published a summary of the Harvard findings in its newsletter this week, accompanied by a statement from the secretary general, Sigrid Ligné, in which some excellent points were made:
"Online gaming inspires polarised and passionate debate, and so has quickly become obscured by myth and innuendo," Ligne wrote. "But when the outcome of this debate could affect Europe’s market leadership, people’s jobs and freedom of consumer choice, we need dispassionate consideration of the facts.
"This is why the promotion of facts, figures and peer-reviewed research is an integral part of our remit.
"There’s an old phrase, ‘Don’t let facts stand in the way of a good story'. EGBA is ensuring that the ‘stories’ of those with vested interests don’t get in the way of the facts. Our message is simple: clarity over confusion, openness over obscurity, and research over rumour."
The study was carried out by a respected team of Y. Evelyn Chao, Ph.D., Debi A. LaPlante, Ph.D. and Howard J. Shaffer, Ph.D. at the Harvard Medical School, Division on Addictions.
Most gambling research utilises self-report – what study participants say about their gambling patterns and experiences – but this methodology is vulnerable to problems of memory, human error, and self-presentation biases, the team emphasised.
To avoid these problems and accurately describe internet gambling, as well as the factors that influence the development and maintenance of gambling-related problems, researchers need to examine actual internet gambling behaviour, and the methodology adopted by the team, aided by full cooperation from the Bwin group, ensured this..
Scientific studies of actual internet gambling require cooperation between the gaming industry and scientists, and the team remains engaged in a diverse research agenda involving Bwin that rests primarily on the actual internet gambling behaviour of Bwin subscribers.
The unique collaboration already has produced numerous publications available through peer-reviewed scientific journals. In the first seven database studies, the Shaffer team identified a substantial sample of more than 40 000 Bwin subscribers representing more than 80 countries who registered during February 2005.
The epidemiological findings that resulted from this study, one of the most detailed and comprehensive scientific studies of addiction yet, contradict the conventional view often used by detractors of the online gambling industry that most Internet gamblers exhibit excessive gambling behaviour.
Instead, the evidence shows that the vast majority of Bwin subscribers engage in moderate betting behaviour (e.g., 2.5 fixed odds sports bets of €4 every fourth day, or 1 casino play every 2 weeks).
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