The gender agenda and the feminization of gambling

The deregulation of the gambling industry both in the UK and elsewhere may not only pose a pose a problem to some of the general population but also to specific ‘at-risk’ groups such as women. Women may be equally as susceptible to developing problem gambling as men. Research has indicated that although they tend to acquire the disorder later in life, progression is often much faster.

Given the increase in gambling-related research, it is surprising that the gambling literature tends to focus on male populations to the neglect of women gamblers. This male bias in the literature is problematic and it often leads professionals to wrongly assume that what is true for male gamblers similarly holds true for their female counterparts. Non gender-specific research into gambling may yield findings which are irrelevant to female gamblers that consequently ignore how, why, when and where women gamble.

Findings from studies that have examined men and women concurrently have highlighted the importance of studying both intra- and inter-gender variations in gambling behaviour. For example, men have been repeatedly found to prefer strategic forms of gambling which necessitate a higher element of risk-taking and skill such as casino gambling or sports betting. This is in contrast to women who favour gambling activities that involve less monetary risk, such as slot machines and bingo – although there are cultural differences. Such differences in gambling behaviour between the genders may in part reflect differences in motivations to gamble.

Research has documented that male gamblers find the thrill of gambling, ego enhancement, communing, competitive risk-taking, and asserting their masculinity to be important motivations for gambling. Women on the other hand may be more motivated to gamble to escape from boredom and gain time out from family responsibilities. Furthermore, social interaction, environmental factors, and the perceived male dominance of some gambling environments may also positively or negatively contribute to the attractiveness of gambling for women. However, newer forms of gambling make it possible for females to swap gender (as is the case in online poker) without other players knowing they have done so.

Others have used gender theory to explain differences in men and women’s motivations to gamble in casinos. For example a 2005 study published in the journal Leisure Science by Professor Gordon Walker and colleagues (University of Alberta, Canada) concluded that differences might be attributed to males and females trying to either prove or negotiate their traditional gender roles. Men have been commonly been stereotyped as being more adventurous, assertive, aggressive, independent and task orientated, whilst women are viewed as being sensitive, gentle, dependent, emotional and people orientated. These images of men and women are ubiquitous and have been found to be relatively consistent across cultures. Walker and colleagues’ study found them to effect motivations to gamble such that risk taking/gambling as a rush, learning, and emotional stoicism (not displaying their emotions) were more important for males. Social interaction and being able to display their emotions were important for women. Thus, gender differences in motivations to gamble in casinos reflected traditionally held images of men and women. It was proposed that for some men, casinos provide an ideal place to prove their masculinity. This has also been noted in my own research among adolescent gamblers in British amusement arcades. On the other hand they provide a good setting for women to escape and cope with their everyday problems associated with traditional female gender roles.

The social acceptance of different types of gambling for males and females may also be influential for their gambling preferences. Therefore, differences in men and women’s motivations to gamble, gender roles, and the social acceptability of forms of gambling for men and women may explain why casino gambling remains more popular amongst males than females. Essentially men are greater risk takers, enjoy games of skill, have a necessity to prove their masculinity, and wager greater sums of money. These are all factors that are accommodated for by engaging in casino gambling.

Apart from gambling on bingo and lotteries, gambling has traditionally been a male domain. However, the newer (technological) forms of gambling are gender-neutral and what we seem to be witnessing more and more is the feminisation of gambling. An early (2001) national prevalence study on internet gambling that I published highlighted that female participants said they would prefer to gamble online rather than in a betting shop or casino because they perceived the internet to be a safer place to gamble, less intimidating, less stigmatising, and more anonymous.

As a consequence, gaming operators appear to now be targeting women in a way that just didn’t happen five years ago. The most obvious example is online bingo where online gaming companies have targeted females to get online, socialise, and gamble. Additionally, there are many operators around the world (including those in the lottery sector and television companies looking for other revenue streams)  that are targeting women via its online instant game sites. Although males still heavily outnumber females in both online and offline gambling (as reported in the most recent British Gambling Prevalence Survey), it is likely that the prevalence of female gambling participation (and as a consequence problem gambling) will increase over the next decade.

This brief overview of gender and gambling highlights the general paucity of work that has been conducted in the field and indicates the need to examine female gambling more systematically and in greater detail. Motivations to gamble and gambling behaviour appear to vary as a function of gender and very few studies have examined this in any depth.

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

Further reading

Casey, E. (2003). Gambling and consumption: Working-class women and UK National Lottery play. Journal of Consumer Culture, 3, 245-263.

Dixley, R. (1987). It’s a great feeling when you win: Women and bingo. Leisure Studies, 6, 199-214.

Grant, J.E. & Kim, S.W. (2002). Gender differences in pathological gamblers seeking medication treatment. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 43, 56-62.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2001).  Internet gambling: Preliminary results of the first UK prevalence study, Journal of Gambling Issues, 5. Available at:

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Fruit machine addiction in females: A case Study. Journal of Gambling Issues, 8. Available at:

Griffiths, M.D. & Bingham, C. (2002). Bingo playing in the UK: The influence of demographic factors on play.  International Gambling Studies, 2, 51-60.

Hing, N., & Breen, H., (2001). Profiling Lady Luck: An empirical study of gambling and problem gambling amongst female club members. Journal of Gambling Studies, 17, 47-69.

Mark, M.E. & Lesieur, H.R. (1992). A feminist critique of problem gambling research. British Journal of Addiction, 87, 549-565.

Potenza, M.N., Steinberg, M.A., Mclaughlin, S.D., Wu, R., Rounsaville, B.J. & O’Malley, S.S. (2001). Gender-related differences in the characteristics of problem gamblers using a gambling helpline. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158, 1500-1505.

Tavares, H., Zilberman, M.L., Beites, F. & Gentil, V., (2001). Gender differences in gambling progression. Journal of Gambling Studies, 17, 151-159.

Walker, G.J., Hinch, T.D. & Weighill, A.J. (2005). Inter and intra gender similarities and differences in motivations for casino gambling. Leisure Science, 27, 111-130.

Wardle, H., Moody. A., Spence, S., Orford, J., Volberg, R., Jotangia, D., Griffiths, M.D., Hussey, D. & Dobbie, F. (2011).  British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. London: The Stationery Office.

Wood, R.T.A., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2007). The acquisition, development, and maintenance of online poker playing in a student sample. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10, 354-361.


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 23, 2012, in Addiction, Gambling addiction, Gender differences, Popular Culture, Psychology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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