Online Gambling Activity: Trends and Risks in 2024



Esports betting (ESB) is a popular activity that combines elements of gaming and gambling. This study presents the first research in Poland on ESB and compares it to other forms of e-gambling and involvement in pay-to-win games.

The aim of the study was to build a predictive model of gambling disorder among people betting on esports. The results showed that gambling disorder among esports bettors is associated with time spent on one game session, placing other forms of online gambling bets once a week or more often, and paying in pay-to-win games.

Gambling disorder was also predicted by escape coping strategies and lower engaged strategies as well as financial and coping motivation to bet on esports results. The results show the crucial role of psychological factors (motivation, coping) in the development of ESB addiction.

Similar research has been conducted by Kagan Kircaburun, Nuri Türk, and Mark D. Griffiths, who examined the relationship between problematic social media use, gaming, and gambling among adolescents. Sally M. Gainsbury has conducted research on the impact of social media on online gambling and gaming. Alican Kaya and colleagues have examined the relationship between problematic internet use, gaming, and gambling among Turkish university students.

These studies show that there is a need for further research focused on the specificity of esports betting behavior to discover the direction of links among gaming, gambling, and esports gambling.


The gambling industry has experienced significant changes with the advent of the internet and the accompanying online gambling offerings.

Online gambling, also known as e-gambling, is gambling organized in the internet space, where a person can participate via devices connected to the network such as computers, mobile phones, and tablets. The rise of online gambling has resulted in a noticeable increase and changes in the nature of gambling involvement, which are visible in many countries.

The reasons for these changes include anonymity, low cost, ease of access, additional benefits, interactivity, game speed, and the possibility to play multiple games simultaneously.

Research shows that online gambling has a higher percentage of problem gamblers compared to offline gambling. The risk factors of online gambling addiction include lower education, male gender, unemployment, and not being in a relationship. The type and number of online gambling and the frequency of gambling are also related to problem online gambling.

The latest phenomenon in the gambling industry is the possibility of betting on the results of video games, also known as esports. Esports is a new type of gaming activity that is rapidly gaining in popularity and reach, especially among young players.

The gaming industry now supports the opportunity to engage professionally in gaming competitions at large, through organizing tournaments with thousands of spectators, and sponsoring and offering prizes to winners on the order of thousands of dollars.

An important aspect of esports is the possibility of betting on the results of gaming competitions. This has brought e-gaming closer to gambling, making this aspect of gaming activity “pure” gambling. One of the options of betting on video game results is in-game items, and the space for betting is so-called social gaming, i.e., games that allow interaction between players.

Another point of contact between gaming and gambling is skin gambling. This is a special form of betting often offered by entities that are independent of game providers, and where the stakes are skins, which have an aesthetic value and do not, in principle, affect the course of the game.

The viewers of esports are also subject to researchers’ interest. In light of the research results, the intensity of the view ratio of esports games is positively related to escape motivation and the need to broaden one’s knowledge about the games. There is an analogy to gaming disorder or gambling disorder, in which the escape motive plays a vital role.


Participants and Procedure

To conduct this study, esports bettors were selected from a larger sample of internet gamblers. The survey was carried out by an IMAS internet panel consisting of registered users in Poland.

The panel has over 65,000 registered employees and has been operating since 2005 based on voluntary paid cooperation following ESOMAR’s research standards (IMAS International Sp. z o.o., 2019). The respondents were rewarded for participating in the study.

IMAS invited 46,806 panel users to participate in the research, and 8511 (18.2%) accepted the invitation. The respondents were selected based on two criteria: (1) they have gambled online during the last 12 months or (2) they have spent money on free-to-play games.

Respondents meeting one or both of these criteria formed the research group of 2074 people. From this group, individuals who answered positively to the question “Have you gambled for money on esports or virtual sports betting online over the past 12 months?” were selected.

The esports bettors sample consisted of 438 people aged 18 to 64 (M = 33.1, SD = 9.27). Women constituted 37%, and men constituted 63% of respondents.

Other sociodemographic variables were also included in the study, such as education, monthly income, and marital/residence status. Table 1 presents the exact characteristics of the respondents in terms of sociodemographic variables.


The intensity of gambling disorder among esports bettors was measured using the Polish translation of the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI; Ferris et al., 2001).

The PGSI contains nine statements to which the respondent gives answers on a 4-level response scale (0 = Never, 1 = Sometimes, 3 = Most of the time, 4 = Almost always). The interpretation of the results is as follows: 0 points—no gambling problem, 1–2—low gambling problem, 3–7—moderate gambling problem, 8 and more—problem player. Results greater than or equal to 3 are included in the group of pathological gamblers. The reliability of PGSI in the present study was α = 0.93.

Information on online gambling was collected through a multiple-choice question: “From this list of games, in which one(s) have you gambled for money online over the past 12 months?”

The list contained 11 types of internet gambling games, including esports or virtual sports betting. Additional potential online gaming activities included using virtual money for sports betting, paying for pay-to-win games, and gambling offline.

Gambling motivation was measured with the Polish translation of the Gambling Motives Questionnaire–Financial GMQ-F (Devos et al., 2017). The questionnaire comprises 16 questions to which the respondent gives answers on a 4-level response scale (1 = Never or almost never, 2 = Sometimes, 3 = Often, 4 = Almost always).

The tool allows determining the intensity of the four motives of gambling: financial, social, enhancement, coping. In the present study, Cronbach’s alpha reliability coefficients for subscales were as follows: enhancement, 0.79; social, 0.71; coping, 0.74; and financial, 0.80.

The Brief COPE questionnaire by Carver (1997) was used to measure stress coping strategies. It is composed of 28 statements comprising 14 larger units (two statements in each strategy). The respondent assesses the items on a 4-point scale from 0 (= I haven’t been doing this at all) to 3 (= I’ve been doing this a lot).

Because each strategy has only two items and the strategies correlate with each other, a dimensional reduction has been made here through principal component analysis (PCA) with varimax rotation. Both the scree test and the Kaiser criterion indicated two components to be extracted, which explained 53% of the variance of the Brief COPE subscale results. The results of the Brief COPE PCA are shown in Table 2.

The first component was defined as an engaged coping style, including an active approach, seeking social support and cognitive mastery of the situation, and the second as an escape coping style, which included evasion countermeasures, denial, emotional response, and escape into psychoactive substances and religion.

Statistical Analysis

Categorical variables were described using frequencies and percentages. Associations between predictors and psychological distress were assessed using cumulative link models (ordinal regression) with a complementary log–log link function, reflecting


Behavioral Patterns of ESB

Esports bettors displayed varying frequencies of engagement in esports betting, with a significant proportion participating several times a year, several times a month, and several times a week.

The majority of respondents indicated spending moderate amounts of money, with PLN 10 and PLN 20 being the most common. Additionally, a large percentage of players spent less than 15 minutes on a single esports betting session.

Prevalence of Gambling Disorder Among esports Bettors

The study group exhibited diverse levels of gambling disorder, with a substantial portion showing symptoms of gambling disorder. Specifically, 34.9% of esports bettors displayed symptoms of gambling disorder, while 27.6% exhibited a moderate level of addiction risk.

Other Forms of Online Gambling Among esports Bettors

In addition to esports betting, a significant number of participants engaged in other forms of online gambling, including state-run lotteries, scratch cards, sports betting, and online slot machines.

Moreover, a majority of esports bettors were involved in offline gambling activities, with scratch cards being the most popular.

Pay-to-Win Gaming Among esports Bettors

A large percentage of esports bettors had also participated in free online games, with a substantial portion making payments in these games to enhance their chances of winning. Notably, 59.8% of bettors made payments in free games with the intention of winning.

Prediction of Gambling Disorder Among esports Bettors

Various factors were identified as predictors of gambling disorders among esports bettors. These included coping strategies, gambling motivations, time spent on esports betting sessions, involvement in other e-gambling activities, and payments made in pay-to-win games.

Figure 1

The effects of these predictors on the probability of different levels of gambling risk among esports bettors were examined, highlighting the influence of coping strategies, gambling motivations, and time spent on esports betting sessions on the risk of problematic gambling. Additionally, engagement in pay-to-win gaming and other forms of e-gambling was associated with a higher risk of problem gambling among esports bettors.


The addiction to esports betting is primarily driven by psychological factors, as revealed by the results of a research study (MacLaren et al., 2015; Reid et al., 2011).

Problem gamblers often turn to sports betting for financial gain and to escape everyday problems and improve their mood. Such mechanisms are typical of addicted gamblers, who engage in other forms of gambling (Fortune & Goodie, 2012; Myrseth et al., 2010).

Addicted players often refuse to stop playing even when they have lost, exacerbating their cognitive distortions associated with the belief in winning and perpetuating adverse gambling behavior leading to addiction.

Gainsbury et al. (2017b) drew attention to the risk for both gamers and esports bettors, consisting of the fact that esports bettors often perceive gambling as purely skill games, seeking an analogy to skill-based video games, which increases the risk of their gambling addiction.

It is worth noting that professional gaming, in which gaming is treated as a gainful activity, is compared to professional poker, which also carries a risk of addiction for some gamblers, including those who are financially dependent and have low material status (Grzesik, 2019).

The search for a way to earn money by gambling with such people will, therefore, be marked by a high risk of a permanent return to gambling and addiction.

Research on the relationship between professional gaming and professional gambling has been undertaken, but it is still scarce, and its continuation seems to be very relevant in the context of better understanding of esports and related phenomena (Griffiths, 2017).

Our research has shown that gambling motivated by the need to cope with difficulties and improve one’s mood is strongly linked to unconstructive coping strategies.

Those without the ability to actively and constructively deal with difficulties reach for escape strategies, such as stopping activities, taking psychoactive substances, denying, turning to religion, or taking up another activity, as well as esports betting.

Escape behavior is typical for people with addictions (Hagström & Kaldo, 2013; Kardefelt-Winther, 2014; Kuss et al., 2012; Li et al., 2011; Ohno, 2016; Xu et al., 2012; Young et al., 2017).

It is worth noting that the use of engaged coping strategies acts as a protective factor, decreasing the risk of gambling almost to zero.

Our results are consistent with research on addiction mechanisms in both gaming disorder and gambling disorder, which suggests that people involved in both activities may exhibit similarities, or that these populations overlap.

The results show that as many as 88.6% of bettors also play free online games with the possibility to purchase pay-to-win add-ons, while 59.8% make such purchases in pay-to-win games.

This result may indicate a tendency for esports gamblers to spend money on gaming, which is a standard in gambling and, in some way, normalizes this phenomenon in gambling.

It can, therefore, be assumed that this type of gambling is a primary activity concerning video games (gaming) and, in particular, about payments made in these games.

The normalization of payments made in video games by bettors can be further confirmed by the fact that the dependence on sports betting is significantly related to making payments in pay-to-win games.

Another factor, besides the psychological one, that best explains the addiction to esports betting was the time spent on one esports betting session.

Past research has shown that the time spent on video games alone is not directly related to experiencing the negative consequences of playing.

Researchers have pointed out that many video gamers play games with high intensity (often and for a long time), but do not experience significant dysfunctions.

An important factor in differentiating these players is the motivation behind their involvement in the games.

Treating the game as a way of satisfying one’s own needs (a source of need fulfillment) and a way of dealing with stress and frustration proves to be an important risk factor for the development of gaming addiction.

For addicted players, gaming is more often a coping strategy than a way to experience entertainment and pleasure, which is a mechanism consistent with other addictions, including gambling disorder.

Escape coping strategies and the motivation to deal with problems through gambling are, therefore, present in both gaming disorder and gambling disorder.

However, the emerging difference between the images of both disorders is the intensity of playing. It appears that gamers are more likely to play intensely and without adverse consequences in comparison to gamblers, for whom intensive gambling is most often associated with negative outcomes.

In our research, despite the linear relationship between time spent on one session of game and betting addiction, a certain deviation was also identified. In groups 1 and 2, separated based on PGSI results, the percentage of people playing in the group decreases with increased in-game time


In summary, our study has found that psychological factors such as motivation and coping strategies play a crucial role in explaining problematic esports betting.

The activity of esports betting is connected with other forms of gambling and playing video games where one can gain an advantage through payment.

The intensity of problematic esports betting increases with involvement in other types of online games. However, the negative consequences of esports betting can be mitigated by engaged coping strategies.

It is important to implement harm minimisation measures such as deposit limits to protect individuals from the negative consequences of esports betting and other forms of gambling.


The following references provide valuable insights into the world of online gambling and esports. The information collected from these sources offers a comprehensive understanding of the psychological, behavioral, and social aspects associated with online gambling and gaming.

  • Abanazir, C. (2019). Institutionalisation in e-sports. Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, 13(2), 117–131. Link
  • Armstrong, T., Rockloff, M., & Browne, M. (2020). Gamble with your head and not your heart: A conceptual model for how thinking-style promotes irrational gambling beliefs. Journal of Gambling Studies, 36(1), 183–206. Link
  • Bányai, F., Griffiths, M. D., Király, O., & Demetrovics, Z. (2019). The psychology of esports: A systematic literature review. Journal of Gambling Studies, 35(2), 351–365. Link
  • Barrault, S., & Varescon, I. (2016). Online and live regular poker players: Do they differ in impulsive sensation seeking and gambling practice? Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 5(1), 41–50. Link
  • Bjerg, O. (2010). Problem gambling in poker: Money, rationality and control in a skill-based social game. International Gambling Studies, 10(3), 239–254. Link

These references cover a wide range of topics related to online gambling and esports, including the psychological and behavioral aspects of gaming, as well as the impact of internet gambling on adolescents and the prevalence of problematic gaming.


The research was funded by a grant from the Ministry of Health’s Gambling Problem Solving Fund (grant number: 10/HEK/2019). No information was provided on any involvement or funding from other entities such as the Gambling Commission, GambleAware, Department of Justice, Gibraltar, or Malta.

Author Information

Authors and Affiliations

The authors of this article are Bernadeta Lelonek-Kuleta and Rafał Piotr Bartczuk, both affiliated with the Institute of Psychology at The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin in Lublin, Poland.


Bernadeta Lelonek-Kuleta was responsible for conceptualization, funding acquisition, methodology, interpretation of data, project administration, supervision, original draft preparation, and review of the manuscript, and contributed to editing of the manuscript.

Rafał Piotr Bartczuk was responsible for data curation, formal analysis, visualization, and editing of the manuscript, and contributed to conceptualization, methodology, interpretation of data, and original draft preparation.

All authors had full access to all data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Corresponding Author

If you have any questions or comments about this article, you can reach out to the corresponding author, Bernadeta Lelonek-Kuleta.

Ethics Declarations

Conflict of Interest

You have no financial or other relationship relevant to the subject of this article.

Ethical Approval

The study procedures were conducted in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki and the standards of good research practice recommended by the American Psychological Association (APA).

At the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, ethical committee consent is required for research participation, but in the case of voluntary online surveys regarding issues widespread in the population, such necessity was not reported.

The participants were informed about the confidentiality and anonymity of the research, and that they had a right to resign from participation.

To comply with ethical standards, the research was conducted under the supervision of the person in charge of the research project section.

The participants were not exposed to any harm, and their privacy and rights were protected. The research was not discriminatory in any way, and the results were reported in an objective and accurate manner.

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