Home > A national survey of online gambling behaviours.

Kelleher, Cathy (2018) A national survey of online gambling behaviours. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 66, Summer 2018, p. 16.

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A recent study published in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine1 aimed to examine attitudes and behaviours of persons who engage in online gambling, a topic under-researched in Ireland to date. Modelled on previous research in the UK context,2 the current study sought to explore attitudes towards and reasons for online gambling, as well as the consequences of online gambling for those who partake.


The ease and anonymity afforded by online gambling has led to growing concern about its addictive qualities and the potential for an increase in the incidence and prevalence of problem gambling as well as harmful effects. In this study, problem gambling is defined as ‘an urge to gamble despite harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop’ (p. 1).3 Some existing research suggests that certain behaviours may be indicative of problem gambling; for example, engaging in two or more activities online, or in certain activities such as live action sports betting and poker.2,4 Other research has examined the effects of problem gambling on mental health,5 and has characterised ‘responsible gambling’ as gambling for leisure, and problem gambling as gambling in order to alter one’s mood state.6 Differences also exist between those who gamble offline and those who gamble online, with the latter more likely to report alcohol and cannabis misuse.7



The authors analysed data from 208 participants (178 males and 30 females), who voluntarily and anonymously completed an online survey advertised for seven months on internet sites and within general media outlets. The survey contained items addressing behavioural aspects of online gambling (e.g. types of activities, devices used, and time spent gambling); reasons for and attitudes towards online gambling; and mental health and financial consequences of online gambling. The survey contained the nine items that comprise the Problem Gambling Severity Index,8 a scale measuring the severity and impact of online gambling in the lives of people who engage in this behaviour. While the final sample included respondents from across Ireland and Northern Ireland, the majority (42%) were from Dublin. The mean age of respondents was 38.9 years (39 years for males and 38.5 years for females).


Key findings

Horse-race betting (27%) and sports betting (24%) were the most common activities for those regularly (most days) gambling online, while lottery (26.9%) was the most common activity engaged in infrequently (less than once per month). The findings suggest that males gamble online more regularly than females, and that females are likely to spend less time gambling than are males. Among respondents, the most common reasons for online gambling were to win money (84.6%), enjoyment (76%), access (71.2%) and availability (65.4%). The most common emotion experienced was excitement (60.6%), followed by happy (35.5%) and no difference (31.7%). Around one-quarter of respondents reported feeling frustrated (27.4%) and irritable (24.5%) while gambling online.


In terms of the consequences of online gambling, around three-quarters of respondents had to borrow money or sell something to get money to gamble (75%) and had experienced financial problems in their household as a result of their online gambling (74.5%). In addition, 67.3% of respondents reported health problems including stress and anxiety as a result of gambling; 64.4% felt they might have a problem with gambling; and more than one-half (53.4%) went back another day to try to win back money they had lost. Although 64.4% of respondents felt they have a problem with online gambling, at least 80% had never received treatment. Among those that received treatment, Gamblers Anonymous was the most accessed option (10.3%), followed by counselling (8.8%) and medication (1.6%). Finally, around three-quarters (76%) of respondents agreed that the potential dangers of gambling should be advertised.



Negative financial and mental health consequences were evident for high percentages of respondents and are suggestive of problem gambling. However, scale scores were not reported. Although many respondents experienced negative effects, the majority had never received any treatment. Previous research suggests that those who engage in conventional (offline) gambling (versus online gambling) are more likely to acknowledge the need for treatment.9 This suggests the specific targeting of information and support to those gambling in online environments. The authors conclude that similar behavioural profiles exist among their sample as among samples in studies from the UK and beyond. As the sample was self-selecting, it may not be representative of the wider population of persons who gamble online. Reliance on respondents’ estimations of their online gambling experiences may further introduce bias, as self-reporting may lack accuracy. It is also worth noting that no information is provided on conventional gambling behaviours among the sample studied.


1 Columb D and O’Gara C (2017) A national survey of online gambling behaviours, Ir J Psychol Med. [Early online] https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/28197/

2 McCormack A, Shorter GW and Griffiths MD (2013) An examination of participation in online gambling activities and the relationship with problem gambling, J Behav Addict, 2(1): 31–41.

3 Jazaeri SA and Habil MH (2012) Reviewing two types of addiction – pathological gambling problems, Indian J Psychol Med, 34(1): 5–11.

4 LaPlante DA, Nelson SE and Gray HM (2014) Breadth and depth involvement: understanding internet gambling involvement and its relationship to gambling and substance use,, Psychol Addict Behav, 28(2): 396–403.

5 Scholes-Balog KE and Hemphill SA (2012) Relationships between online gambling, mental health, and substance use: a review, Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw, 15(12): 688–92.

6 Wood RT and Griffiths MD (2015) Understanding positive play: an exploration of playing experiences and responsible gambling practices, J Gambl Stud, 31(4): 1715–34.

7 Kairouz S, Paradis C and Nadeau L (2012) Are online gamblers more at risk than offline gamblers?, Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw, 15(3): 175–80.

8 Currie SR, Hodgins DC and Casey DM (2013) Validity of the Problem Gambling Severity Index interpretive categories, J Gambl Stud, 29(2): 311–27.

9 Blaszczynski A, Russell A, Gainsbury S and Hing N (2016) Mental health and online, land-based and mixed gamblers, J Gambl Stud, 32(1): 261–75.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Behavioural addiction
Intervention Type
Screening / Assessment
Issue Title
Issue 66, Summer 2018
September 2018
Page Range
p. 16
Health Research Board
Issue 66, Summer 2018

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