Online Gaming in NJ Sparks New Concerns About Addiction

By Shawn Dwyer 12/30/13

After going live last month, mental health professionals have recently reiterated their fears about a growing number of gambling addicts in the Garden State.

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New Jersey has long been a mecca for gambling ever since casinos were first introduced in Atlantic City in 1978. But with the advent of online gambling and its implementation in New Jersey last month, mental health and addiction professionals have been bracing themselves for the onslaught of gambling addicts that is sure to come.

According to research, the rate of problem gamblers grows with increased opportunity to gamble. "It may be enough to speed up addiction or push some people over the edge," said Donal Weinbaum, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling. "Persons in recovery are at some risk and there is definitely a great concern about a possible relapse." At the moment, seven Atlantic City casinos are running a variety of websites that offer everything from slot machines to table poker that can be accessed from any device, be it tablet or computer or smartphone. "It's always there, available any place and any time of day," said Weinbaum. "There are some safeguards built in but basically, it becomes a solitary activity that can become very tempting."

But it’s not just the widespread availability of the gambling sites that have caused concern. It’s also the privacy and anonymity of online gaming that has raised the most red flags. "I think online gambling eliminates the public stigma," said Nancy Douglas, a counselor at Stress Management Counseling Center in Clinton, NJ. "You can do it from the privacy of your own home, not going out in public having to look at people and have people see you repeatedly and wonder if perhaps you're addicted."

As of Dec. 22, more than 109,946 gambling accounts were created. Gov. Chris Christie’s budget has estimated $1 billion in casino revenue by July 2014.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.