Online gambling attracts an increasing number of devotees in Spain every year. New technologies have contributed to the appearance of this boom and, according to the experts, it is the younger generation that has become the target population for gaming operator advertising. Easy access to ICTs at an increasingly early age is another factor that also predisposes young people to the development of gambling-related pathologies much earlier on. We asked UOC Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences professor, José Ramon Ubieto, to talk us through some of the keys to understanding this phenomenon.
Males aged between 26 and 45 who gamble, on average, €322, principally in the area of sports betting. That is the typical profile of the online gambler, a segment which is clearly growing in Spain, according to the latest analysis published by the Directorate General for the Regulation of Gambling. In 2015, over 985,000 people participated in gambling on at least one occasion, 19.6% more than in the previous year, and the total amount gambled exceeded €8,500 million, representing a 30% increase from 2014. Truly dizzying figures for a business that is becoming more and more popular in Spain with every year that passes and is attracting 40,645 new gamblers on a monthly basis.
As a result of their ease around new technologies, it is the younger generations that the experts say have become the "main prey" for a form of gambling that is advertised all over their main consumption channels, such as television, radio, print press, social media and even on the shirts worn by their sporting heroes. Psychologist and Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences course instructor, José Ramon Ubieto, attributes the susceptibility of young people to this type of gambling to various factors, such as "accessibility, since they can play 24 hours a day from any device; its immediacy, the possibility offered online for betting small sums of money, the anonymity and the constant advertising" to which they are subjected.
Slot-machines account for the majority of specialist unit support
Does this constant exposure to gambling and new technologies therefore result in young people developing gambling addictions at an earlier age? Ubieto points out that approximately 90% of gambling addiction unit support is related to slot machine use, with only 10% associated with online gambling. "Young people's consumption does not necessarily result in gambling addictions, in fact only a small number will end up having a problem", he explains.
The easy access youngsters have to new technologies from a very early age does, however, predispose them to the much earlier development of risk behaviours. A study conducted by researchers from the Psychiatry and Mental Health research group at the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) demonstrates a link between pathological gambling and age. The study indicates that patients are developing a problem at an increasingly young age and associates young people with a more serious level of addiction. A situation, says the study, precipitated by the increase in online gambling.
A false perception that gambling is not addictive
The still small number of compulsive online gamblers seeking help in the gambling addiction units could also be related to society's perception of gambling. According to a study on the prevalence, behaviour and characteristics of users of games of chance in Spain, 76% of people consider slot machines to be addictive; 49.5% also consider bingo to be an addictive game; with 47.1% attributing risk of addiction to casinos and only 22.7% to online poker. The study fails to even mention sports betting, the most popular form of betting among gamblers last year. Ubieto points to the fact that society creates false associations around this type of gambling by identifying high performance sports with personal and social success. In other words, this type of gambling is linked to success and not to degeneracy, as it is with other addictions, such as alcoholism or drug addiction. "Young people take on that association", he explains.
According to Ubieto, not only is there a "clear relationship" between access to new technologies and the increase in online gambling, but also with other forms of consumption offered by the Internet. A 2015 UN report flagged up the fact that adolescents and young people aged between 12 and 17 were the biggest consumers of online pornography as a population group worldwide.
Warning signs and factors contributing to the development of a gambling addiction
The clinical psychologist and UOC professor says that a gambler suffering from a pathological condition may exhibit a combination of indicative behaviours, such as, "constant and excessive worrying about money, lying about Internet use and the provenance of money and constant mood swings. When they win they are euphoric, but the next day they may lose and feel irate, depressed and angry", Ubieto explains, adding "regular betting" to the list of potential red flags for people living with compulsive gamblers. In the case of younger people, one indicator parents could watch out for if they suspect that their children are gambling would be a decline in academic performance, the UOC expert explaining that, "Gambling becomes the focus of all their energy and interests".
A desire to be autonomous and not be economically dependent on their parents and the need to experience new sensations are two of the factors that can contribute to youngsters becoming Internet addicts. Ubieto also points out the "popularity" connection for young people with money. "If you have money, you can update your mobile phone, buy clothes, pay for your friends... and that increases your popularity", he concludes.