Christine Reilly: A temptation that may capture those vulnerable to addiction

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The Independent Online

We don't know if internet gambling as a form of gambling is any more risky than any other - there's no empirical evidence yet to suggest that.

Things are not addictive in themselves - addiction is all about the relationship that person brings to the object, whether it is alcohol, food or gambling.

There's no doubt online gambling is a robust phenomenon and that people do get into trouble, but we have to have a better handle on why it happens.

Internet gambling may be a generational thing - the younger generation is more comfortable with the internet and it may be that women are attracted to it because they don't always feel comfortable in a casino - it's not easy as a woman going up to a table with men all around it.

For certain personality types, it can be a problem. People who are lonely and feel shy about going into a casino might prefer to do it at home.

We did a three-year study of 6,000 casino workers and found they had lower levels of gambling addiction [than in the general population] - maybe because they saw people losing a lot of money and thought: "I don't want to be that guy."

This kind of gambling may be capturing some vulnerable people - but the question is: "Do we base all our practices on a small percentage of the population?" We don't know if placing limits helps anybody and it annoys recreational users.

The perfect thing would be if we could catch people before they reach clinical addiction, but it is not easy. Society still puts such a huge stigma on addiction - and that's a lot of the reason why people don't seek help.

Christine Reilly is executive director of the Institute for Research into Pathological Gambling at Harvard University