What is an online gambler? Some surprising findings from the latest British Gambling Prevalence Survey

Things have come a long way since I published my first academic paper on internet gambling back in 1996. Despite a large increase in online gambling research over the last decade, much of the published work to date seems to suggest that differentiating (say) online casino gamblers from online poker players is relatively easy and that there are discrete types of online gambler. However, this isn’t necessarily the case.

Earlier this year, I (along with Heather Wardle who led the research for the latest British Gambling Prevalence Survey) published an article examining what an online gambler actually is. This question may appear somewhat strange and/or self-evident. In fact, many of you reading this may have already reached the conclusion that it is obvious what an online gambler is (i.e., someone who has gambled online). However, those of us who carry out research into online gambling have to be very specific and operationally define what we mean by an “online gambler” in every piece of research that we carry out. For instance, is it right to call someone who gambles a few times a year at an online casino but also gambles on slot machines every week at an amusement arcade an “online casino gambler”?

Most of the published research talks about “online gamblers” as if everyone is totally clear as to what is being referred to when findings are reported. Many of the published research studies in the area (including many of my own) have compared ‘online gamblers’ and ‘offline gamblers’. For instance, in our secondary analyses of the British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) 2007 data (published in a number of papers between 2009 and 2011), online gamblers were simply defined as anyone who had gambled online (e.g., gambled at an online casino, used an online betting exchange, had made a bet online, etc.) but excluded those who had bought online lottery tickets. Our research reported that the problem gambling prevalence rate amongst those who had gambled online was 5% compared to 0.5% for those who had never gambled online. This led to the conclusion that either gambling in an online medium is more ‘dangerous’ and/or problem inducing for gamblers than land-based gambling, and/or that vulnerable gamblers may be more susceptible to developing problems online because of factors such as 24/7 access and convenience factors.

One of the main problems with this is that online gamblers typically gamble offline also. In the 2007 BGPS, of the 9003 participants, a small minority (476 people) reported gambling online in the past year. Of these, only nine people didn’t take part in any other kind of ‘offline’ gambling activity. In other words, the vast majority of online gamblers (98%) also gambled offline. These data suggest that in Britain, ‘online only’ gambling is a low prevalence activity (i.e. 5% of BGPS respondents had gambled online in the last year but only 0.1% had only gambled online in the past year).

According to the latest BGPS published in February 2011, the number of ‘online only gamblers’ had slightly increased to 2% but our data suggest there are a number of distinct ways to categorize gamblers based on the medium in which they gamble and what activities they gamble on in those mediums. This month, we published our secondary analysis of the online gambling data from the latest BGPS in the latest issue of the journal International Gambling Studies. The 2011 BGPS report surveyed 7756 adult gamblers. Approximately one in seven respondents (14%) had gambled online in the past year (i.e., had gambled on at least one gambling activity such as gambling at online casinos and/or playing the lottery online). However, for the first time ever, we created four new groups of gamblers for comparison. These were those that:

  • Gambled offline only (i.e., had gambled on at least one activity such as buying a lottery ticket in a shop or playing roulette at an offline casino but hadn’t gambled online in the past year)
  • Gambled online only (i.e., had gambled on at least one activity such as gambling on a betting exchange or gambling at an online casino but hadn’t gambled offline in the past year)
  • Gambled both online and offline but on different activities (i.e., had gambled on at least one activity online and one activity offline but were different activities such as gambling on a slot machine in an amusement arcade and playing blackjack in an online casino).
  • Gambled both online and offline but on the same activities (i.e., had gambled on at least one activity both online and offline such as gambling at both an online and offline casino)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, of all gamblers, the largest group were those who only gambled offline only (80.5%) and the smallest group were those who gambled online only (2.1%). Of far more interest were the rates of problem gambling among these four groups. The highest prevalence rates of problem gambling were amongst mixed mode gamblers who gambled on different activities (4.3%), followed by mixed mode gamblers who gambled on the same activities (2.4%), those who only gambled offline (0.9%), and those who only gambled online (0%).

The most interesting statistic is arguably the fact that there wasn’t a single case of problem or pathological gambling among those gamblers who only gambled online. Extreme caution must be given as the player base for ‘online only’ gamblers is very small when compared to the other groups. However, this certainly opens up an area for future research as to whether those who only gamble online are more resilient to developing gambling problems than those who engage in mixed modes of gambling. Socio-demographic information from the BGPS studies suggest that those who gamble online are more educated and in better occupations than those who have never gambled online. Maybe, these demographic factors are also protective factors when it comes to the development of gambling problems?

The more refined analysis that we have carried out using the latest BGPS data demonstrates that direct comparisons between online and land-based gamblers typically ignores the more complex nature of how people gamble in and across different media and gambling activities. However, our secondary analysis aimed to demonstrate that these very basic distinctions, using the mode and type of gambling as the primary discriminators, produces a wide range of gambling sub-types for future analysis and demonstrates that the concept of ‘online gambler’ isn’t homogenous.

At present, policy decisions surrounding online gambling – particularly in relation to problem gambling – are often made by conceptualizing online gambling as a single entity. Our research findings based on just a few basic variables including the medium in which people gamble, the type and number of activities engaged in, and the regularity with which people gamble, produces a complex picture of online gambling and demonstrates its heterogeneity.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, NG1 4BU

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2009). Socio-demographic correlates of internet gambling: findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 199-202.

Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2011). Internet gambling, health. Smoking and alcohol use: Findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 1-11.

Wardle, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Defining the ‘online gambler’: The British perspective. World Online Gambling Law Report, 10(2), 12-13.

Wardle, H., Moody, A., Griffiths, M.D., Orford, J. & and Volberg, R. (2011). Defining the online gambler and patterns of behaviour integration: Evidence from the British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. International Gambling Studies, 11, 339-356.

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on November 30, 2011, in Addiction, Gambling, Internet gambling, Online gambling, Problem gamblng and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

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