Gambling online, social responsibility and ‘foot-in the-door’ practices

Bill Gates arrives at the port to heaven and hell. Petrus says “You see Bill, we don’t know what to do with you. You may choose heaven or hell”. Bill peeks in heaven and sees a couple of old boring men sitting around at a table. Bill takes a look in hell and sees really beautiful women, sex, drugs, rock and roll, and most of all, gambling. Bill says “I am a gambling man, I want to go to hell!” Once in hell, Bill is immediately thrown into the fire. Bill says “Hey, what the hell is this, I saw all the gambling, women, and sex?” The devil says ‘That was just a demo version.”

Hopefully this opening joke highlights that online gamblers need to be aware that commercial operators often use subtle psychological ploys to get them to part with their money. For the online gambling industry, it also raises issues around social responsibility and the extent to which operators should be using such tactics.

One of the most common ways that gamblers can be facilitated to gamble online is when they try out games in the ‘demo’, ‘practice’ or ‘free play’ mode. At one level, most would argue that playing for points rather than money is little more than innocuous fun and ‘good value’ to the player. Furthermore, playing games for free online is akin to ‘skill schools’ that exist offline, such as learning poker or blackjack in a casino. Offline, there are many constraints to ‘learning to play’ as the free opportunities may only be available on certain days and at certain times. On internet gambling sites there is a lot of scope for players to practice games for free before they play with real money. However, gaming operators need to realise that in terms of their social responsibility, games – even the ‘demo’ versions – need to be fair to players. Despite the undoubted positives, there are other not so positive aspects that have been identified in the scientific literature.

The use of ‘greater than chance’ win probabilities during ‘demo’ games is one example of the many tried and tested psychological ‘foot-in-the-door’ techniques used widely in the commercial sector. Some research carried out by psychologists at the University of Laval in Canada showed it was significantly more commonplace to win while ‘gambling’ on the first few goes on a ‘demo’ or ‘free play’ game. They also reported that it was commonplace for gamblers to have extended winning streaks during prolonged periods while playing the ‘demo’ version. Obviously, once gamblers to play for real, the odds of winning may be considerably reduced. Related to this are the urban myths that develop around online gambling. For instance, a very common myth is that a gambler’s first bet after opening an online account is very often a winning one.

There is now a growing number of studies highlighting that playing for free online is popular among teenagers. ‘Money free’ gambling appears to play an important role for adolescents in conceptualising and experiencing Internet gambling. In the 2009 British study of gambling among nearly 9000 adolescents aged 11-to 15-years, Ipsos MORI reported that just over a quarter of them had played in ‘money-free mode’ on internet sites in the week preceding the survey. Further analysis of these data by researchers at Salford University showed that gambling in the money-free mode was the single most important predictor of whether the child had gambled for money, and one of the most important predictors of children’s problem gambling. However, the possibility and extent to which money-free gambling is responsible for real gambling participation and gambling-related risk and harm needs further research.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Forrest, D. K, McHale, I  & Parke, J. (2009). Appendix 5: Full report of statistical regression analysis. In Ipsos MORI (2009)British Survey of Children, the National Lottery and  Gambling 2008-09: Report of a quantitative survey. London: National Lottery Commission.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2010). Adolescent gambling on the Internet: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 22, 59-75.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The convergence of gambling and digital media: Implications for gambling in young people. Journal of Gambling Studies, 26, 175-187.

Sevigny, S., Cloutier, M., Pelletier, M. & Ladouceur, R. (2005). Internet gambling: Misleading payout rates during the “demo” period. Computers In Human Behavior, 21, 153-158.


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 January 5, 2012, in Gambling, Internet gambling, Online gambling, Problem gamblng, Psychology, Social responsibility, Technology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Ola! Drmarkgriffiths,
    I was wondering on a similar note,, Why is this? Social Conservatism isn’t Conservatism.
    I look forward to your next post

  2. G’Day! Drmarkgriffiths,
    I was wondering on a similar note,, I picked this social issue for my Art class, and I have to do a 2-page write-up on an “Argument on Gambling”. I also have to create a piece of art, it can be anything from drawing and painting to sculpture and figures. Any ideas?

    Illegal gambling, compulsive gambling, online gambling, etc. Give me your opinion🙂

    *Easy 10 points!

    Thank you so so much in advance for any thoughts/ideas.🙂
    I look forward to your next post

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