The U.S. and the world recently “celebrated” Super Bowl Sunday for the 46th year. The festivities and hoopla have grown more intense with every passing year. So, too, does the economic impact. Hosting the game alone is estimated to have added $500 million dollars to the Indianapolis, Indiana economy (Associated Press), and the total estimated wagering on the football game is between $7-10 billion dollars in casinos, online and with bookies (ABC News). Perhaps the greatest emerging challenge to the field of problem gambling prevention and treatment is the looming prospect of online gambling of some kind or another. Recent initiatives in Iowa, Nevada, and the District of Columbia appear to be the precursors of efforts by state and/or municipal governments to “enhance revenues” in the face of crippling shortfalls in gross revenues. As we have already seen, proliferation of gambling venues and expanded access to legalized gambling have already come with significant social costs as well as the expected social/economic benefits.

Online gambling opportunities proliferate with the speed of the Internet. For example, as described by Howard Shaffer, PhD, CAS, Harvard Medical School, Division of Addictions, “by 1996, according to Rolling Good Times Online gambling magazine, there were 452 gambling-related sites on the net. By January 2, 2004, a casual Sherlock search of the Internet identified more than 377,000 web sites related to “Internet gambling.”

Internet gambling may be a particularly insidious form of gambling activity, since it erases most obstacles to gambling behavior and allows for the even greater privacy and ease of access of gambling in the home. That is, it may be easier for gambling to remain a “hidden” addiction longer, with increased severity of impact. It may provide a greater vulnerability, as well, if personal information, financial transactions and credit/banking information is shared online. Whatever its potential impact, and however it may be regulated, the prospect of online gambling, whether intrastate or internationally, should be cause for careful thought among those interested in or concerned about problem gambling.