It’s always a pleasure when Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) in Washington, comes to Minnesota to share his knowledge. In September, Keith spoke at our annual conference about an issue of increasing importance: the implications of technology on problem gambling.

If you’ve ever played a game on a computer, game console or mobile app, you know how luring technology-based games can be. While the strong urge to participate in these games is not classified as an addiction in the realm of professional diagnostic criteria, there is extensive research underway aimed at understanding the addictive quality of online games – and the related risk factors for uncontrolled compulsive behavior in some gamers.

Now that online gambling is legal in three states (New Jersey, Delaware, Nevada), there is more focus on the nexus of online games and online gambling. People have multiple online options to play traditional casino-like games for free, with the potential to win virtual money and points. Other types of games allow for the purchase of various game components to enhance the game experience. The jump to real online gambling is a short one, and is cause for concern given that online gambling is likely to become legal in many states in the coming years.

The question is what these technological changes mean for addictive gambling. On one hand, the ability to play anonymously through the use of credit cards could attract players who seek to escape through gambling. Further, the fast rate of play, 24-hour availability and social isolation can all be factors in developing gambling problems. On the other hand, however, there are also potential safeguards that can be built into online technology to actually protect the gambler. These measures include limits on deposits, bets and time spent playing.

To ensure safe online gambling, the NCPG developed the first-ever U.S. standards on internet gambling in April 2012. The standards inform policy, decision making, advertising and more. Our hope is that as technology and gaming evolves, precautions can be incorporated to help minimize the risk. We will closely monitor this issue in the coming months and years.

Cathie Perrault
Executive Director, NPGA