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Real Limits in the Virtual World: Self-Limiting Behavior of Internet Gamblers

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The recent expansion of Internet gambling has stimulated debate, policy, and research on this relatively new phenomenon and its potential consequences. The current study focuses on bettors experiencing problems by sampling Internet gamblers who imposed limits on the amount they were allowed to deposit to a betting site. We analyzed the betting transactions over 18 months of all gamblers who subscribed to an online betting site in February, 2005 (N = 47,134), 567 of whom utilized the site’s self-limit feature. Self-limiting gamblers played a wider variety of games and placed more bets than others prior to imposing limits. After imposing limits, self-limiters reduced their activity, but did not reduce the amount they wagered per bet. Time spent gambling, not just money spent, appears to be an important indicator of gambling problems. Self-limit programs appear to be promising options for Internet gamblers at-risk for gambling problems.

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  1. Previous analysis of this sample (LaBrie et al. 2007) empirically established that the top 1% of the sample on certain variables exhibited behavior that was extreme compared to the rest of the sample. Based on that finding, we repeated the comparisons between SLs and non-SLs presented in Table 1 excluding non-SLs whose bets per day, stakes per bet, total wagered, or net loss placed them in the top 1% of the sample. (Frequency and % loss did not exhibit the same discontinuous distribution.) This resulted in 1,410 non-SLs being excluded. These comparisons revealed a pattern of differences identical to the pattern presented in the Table with the following exception: for live-action betting and betting on other games, euros per bet were no longer significantly different between SLs and non-SLs.


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bwin, Interactive Entertainment, AG provided primary support for this study. The authors extend special thanks to Christine Reilly, Christine Thurmond, and Ziming Xuan for their support and work on this project. Dr. Nelson had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for its integrity and the accuracy of the data analysis. None of these supporters or any of the authors has personal interests in bwin and its associated companies that would suggest a conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Sarah E. Nelson.

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Nelson, S.E., LaPlante, D.A., Peller, A.J. et al. Real Limits in the Virtual World: Self-Limiting Behavior of Internet Gamblers. J Gambl Stud 24, 463–477 (2008).

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