Have you ever wondered why people love to gamble online? Well, here are some reasons which explain why the virtual casino is way too addictive to people.
Dennis K.’s career as a gambling addict began in a snack bar near Bremen. Between French fries and beer mugs, the 17-year-old saw a slot machine in which there was still money. Dennis pressed a button and 170 Marks crackled into the output shaft. He was fixed and started playing regularly. “For those moments, I forgot everything around me, “he says in a YouTube video that he uses to educate others about his years of gambling addiction.
Most player careers begin with a profit – many ends with the loss of family, friends, jobs or even life. In view of their huge mountains of debt, some see no other way out than suicide; among all addicts, gambling addicts have the highest suicide rate.
Dennis is one of currently 193,000 addicts in Germany. If one also includes those who have been addicted to gambling at least once in their lives, there are 530,000 people, according to a study by addiction researchers at the University of Lübeck.
Ringing machines trigger feelings of happiness
For many people, vending machines are the starter drug and usually the end drug; they are the most dangerous variant of gambling. The inhibition threshold is low: At just 20 cents, you are already participating in one of the 236,000 ATMs in Germany. About every twelfth slot machine player becomes a problem or addict. It’s only every 300 players in the lottery. Addicts are under the illusion of controlling addiction. Win them, they go on because they believe in a lucky streak and their hormones push them. If they lose, they go on – to recoup the loss.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) defines pathological gambling as continuous and recurring, mismatched gambling behaviour, which is expressed in at least five of the following characteristics (only three to four characteristics apply, which are problematic gambling behaviour):
- A strong bias towards gambling (e. g. a strong mental preoccupation with fundraising)
- Increase of the stakes in order to achieve the desired excitation
- Repeated unsuccessful attempts to control, restrict or abandon the game
- Restlessness and irritability when trying to restrict or abandon the game
- Play to avoid problems or negative moods
- Resumption of gambling after a loss of money
- Lies to third parties to cover up the extent of the gambling problem
- Illegal acts to finance gambling
- Endangering or losing important relationships, jobs and future opportunities
- Hopes for the provision of funds by third parties
It is known that the messenger substance dopamine plays a central role in the development of addictions – including gambling addiction. The dopamine, also known as the happiness hormone from the interbrain, is increasingly released when it is won at the machine and stimulates the reward system. “Over time, the expectation of profit alone will suffice to activate it,” says Klaus Wölfling, a psychologist at the gaming outpatient clinic in Mainz.
The feeling is so good that you want to experience it over and over again. At the same time, the accompanying stimuli burn into the brain: the ringing of the machines, the smell in the casino, the bright light – all this can suddenly trigger feelings of happiness because the body has had a pleasant experience in this environment before. Particularly perfidious: Some casinos guide the machine noises down to the street to attract players.
In addition, neuronal changes lead to the fact that the release of dopamine is no longer sufficient for other activities – at some point only games will make you happy. The addict’s reward system is dull, Wölfling said. Even profits don’t activate it anymore, only the expectations and the game itself. “The addicts don’t even notice the heavy casualties anymore.”
Especially young people are at risk. An investigation in Rhineland-Palatinate revealed that two-thirds of all minors are gambling addicts and spend their money in restaurants or gaming halls – a clear failure of youth protection. There are much less control and protection of minors in online gambling. Theo Baumgärtner, head of the Office for Addiction Prevention in Hamburg, conducted a survey among Hamburg pupils in 2009. The shocking result: one in ten 14 to 18-year-olds regularly spends money on gambling. At the top of the popularity, a scale is online poker and sports betting.
Men with risky behaviours
“In principle, it can affect anyone,” says Tobias Hayer, an addiction researcher at the University of Bremen. However, certain groups of people are particularly at risk, as scientists around the addiction researcher Hans-Jürgen Rumpf from the University of Lübeck have found out in the Page Study (Project Pathological Gambling and Epidemiology) in the investigation of 15,000 people:
- 90 percent are men
- 85 percent are under 30 years of age
- 80 percent are heavy smokers
- 65 percent have a migration background
- 50 percent are alcoholics<
- 50 percent have depression
- 20 percent are unemployed
It is unclear whether concomitant illnesses and addictions are the cause or consequence of gambling addiction. The fact that nine out of ten addicts are male explains Hayer with the fact that men generally tend to behave riskily. “Women have a higher inhibition threshold to enter a gambling hall, a casino or a betting office,” says the addiction researcher.
Many gambling addicts become criminals to finance their addiction, they are less productive or become unemployed. And they need psychological help. This costs society a lot of money – how much is controversial. Tilman Becker, head of the research centre for gambling at the University of Hohenheim, estimates the annual sum to be 326 million euros, while the “Research Institute for Gambling and Betting” estimates similar figures.
Ingo Fiedler, on the other hand, economist and social scientist from the University of Hamburg, expects a much higher sum per year: 40 billion euros. In his opinion, the research institutions did not take into account the immense expenditure of those affected by addiction. Many gambling addicts gamble away almost all their income and accumulate an average of 25,000 euros in debt. Estimates also ignore the psychological suffering of those affected.