Ever since bookmakers were allowed to open high street offices in 1961, they have been an almost exclusively male preserve. Which is not surprising given the smoke-filled ambience of the average bookies.
But market researchers MORI have discovered that a growing band of women, currently about one in 20, believes the net provides a safer and less intimidating environment in which to gamble. Worryingly, one in 20 teenagers of both sexes said they would be tempted to use their parents' credit card when gambling from home.
A 10-minute "surf" of the net reveals an enticing array of opportunities to make, or lose, vast amounts of cash. In addition to the traditional betting on horse racing, it is now possible to play anything from poker to roulette and blackjack. Particularly tempting for children is the opportunity to play on slot machines by logging on to virtual casinos which can be easily located through the major web servers.
Indeed, several servers offer free software, which can be downloaded in a matter of minutes, as well as the chance to begin playing, initially, with fake money.
One site even offers the choice of playing alone or on a multi-player, multi-nationality table, just like, as the blurb says, a real casino. It also has a 3D multi-media roulette wheel.
Experts believe that the anonymity of gambling on the internet combined with the ease of betting without leaving your own house means that it could become a serious social problem in the future unless properly regulated. Children are particularly at risk because more than a third of teenagers have a computer in their bedroom.
"Some of the sites for gambling we investigated proved to be less than legitimate. If internet gambling is increasing consumers need to be aware of which sites are legitimate," said Ben Oliver, contributing editor of the net, an internet consumer magazine which commissioned the research. "Consumers need information and advice about online gambling so that everyone doing it feels safe," he said.
"The increase in the number of consumers online, and the low start-up costs of setting up a website, mean that the number of internet gambling sites will increase rapidly, many run by unscrupulous traders," said Dr Mark Griffiths, professor of psychology at Nottingham Trent University, who has carried out research on internet gambling and regulation.
One female internet gambler, who did not want to be named, said: "Women are definitely more likely to gamble on the internet. Most women do not want to go into a shop; it's the anonymity that's attractive. There is a stigma attached to bookies. If you had a computer in your bedroom you could just have a flutter any time."