In their position paper, Aarseth et al. (2016) bring to light several timely issues concerning the categorization of gaming disorder as a form of addiction and as a discrete mental disorder. In our commentary, we welcome their caution toward this move and their discussion of the equivocal scientific data in its support and the potential negative consequences for gamers. We suggest that a more heterogeneous approach is required for understanding any behavioral addiction, as concepts from gambling appear to be more relevant for aspects of mobile gaming than for video games more generally. In addition to a greater need for clinical research, we argue that studying gaming at a different level of analysis than the epidemiological study is required to gain a meaningful understanding of the harm video games may or may not entail.
Whilst some research has explored the impact of COVID-19 on gambling behaviour, little is yet known about online search behaviours for gambling during this period. The current study explored gambling-related online searches before, during and after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. We also assessed whether search trends were related to Gambling Commission behavioural data over the same period.
Google Trends™ search data, covering thirty months from January 2020 to June 2022, for five gambling activities and five gambling operators were downloaded. Graphical displays of the weekly relative search values over this period were then produced to visualise trends in search terms, with key dates in COVID-19 policy and sporting events highlighted. Cross-correlations between seasonally adjusted monthly search data and behavioural indices were conducted.
Sharp increases in internet searches for poker, slots, and bingo were evident during the first lockdown in the UK, with operator searches sharply decreasing over this period. No changes in gambling activity searches were highlighted during subsequent lockdowns, although small increases in operator-based searches were detected. Strong positive correlations were found between search data and industry data for sports betting and poker but not for slots.
Google Trends™ data may act as an indicator of population-level gambling behaviour. Substitution of preferred gambling activities for others may have occurred during the first lockdown when opportunities for sports betting were limited. Further research is needed to assess the effectiveness of internet search data in predicting gambling-related harm.