Loyal ascent: Player retention and social responsibility in the online gambling industry

Although I have spent nearly 30 years researching problem gambling, I am not (and have never been) anti-gambling. My research colleagues who work in the field of alcoholism are never considered anti-drinking so I don’t think I am in any way hypocritical. I also help various gaming companies in terms of harm minimization, social responsibility, and player protection – particularly those in the online gambling sector. In today’s blog I briefly outline five important factors that I believe are critical to online player acquisition and retention based on a combination of my own psychological research and my many years of researching the psychology of gambling. These are (i) branding, (ii) trust, (iii) reputation management and enhancement, (iv) company identification with the player, and (v) social responsibility.

Branding – Every great brand has an outstanding feature at its heart. A product also needs time and to be promoted and communicated consistently to become a brand. Repetition appears to be one of the keys to establishing brand success. Online gambling sites often get bad press and are often viewed as unsafe and risky places. Negative press and enough negative feedback from customers can bring the brand into disrepute.

Trust – What really determines a brand – and this is especially important in the online gambling arena – is trust. Trust is of paramount importance in e-commerce generally, and in getting people to gamble online more specifically. Without trust, the spending of money online is unlikely. Players will be more likely to gamble online with those companies that are well established than a little known company operating out of the Caribbean. It has been claimed that successful brands have a ‘trustmark’ rather than a trademark. With the embedding of regulatory and problem gambling regimes, a ‘trustmark’ is an apt gauge for social acceptability and social responsibility. However, getting transferability and connections across brands in the ‘mainstream’ is probably the key issue.

For many Internet gambling operators, the mechanism to establish trust has been to pursue a ‘clicks and mortar’ approach of combining an offline presence (and brand recognition) with online presence. ‘Trustmarks’ are thought to be one of the major reasons why consumers prefer one particular product to other non-familiar ones. They communicate that customers have not been let down by the product and they can reduce anxiety by using it. At the heart of gambling there will always be the underlying fact that in the long run, most players lose. Whichever way the gaming industry plays out this truism, the general situation of players mostly losing represents an underlying negativity that competes with the wit and innovation of demonstrating that the minority of real long-term winners are the central focus and purpose of participating. This is one of the main reasons why trust becomes so important.

Reputation management and enhancement – It was once argued that the Internet would provide a level playing field for small and large retailer alike. However, given the need to establish trust, it would seem that organisations with a good existing offline reputation are at an advantage. Research into online purchasing of books and flight bookings show that the perceived size and reputation of the company determines consumers’ likelihood of purchasing from it. The reason for this is that increased size and reputation led to higher trust, which in turn influences the perception of risk and the willingness to buy.

Recent psychological thinking proposes a three stage model for understanding how people assess the trustworthiness of a website. The first stage assumes that people are faced with a large number of potential websites and thus engage in rapid, heuristic-based analysis based on the design of the site, rather than the content. During the second stage, people engage in a more systematic analysis of the content of the site, and it is during this stage that people are influenced by apparent integrity, benevolence and expertise. The third stage is a relationship development and integration stage, that is, people’s continued use of a site, personalization and the integration of experience.

Trust is an historical concept because customers need repeated interactions coupled with good feelings to build it. Branding experts claim it takes at least three years to establish the feeling of goodwill among consumers. The good news for companies – including the gaming industry – is that customers do not have to have experienced the product. Customers might engage in things because others have used or engaged in the product for years. Although little studied in empirical gambling investigations, trust is thought to be an important variable in both the initial decision to gamble and the maintenance of the behaviour. In a study of nearly 11,000 carried out by our gaming research unit, four-fifths of Internet gamblers (79%) considered the Internet a trustworthy medium of gambling. However, most Internet gamblers (90%) preferred to gamble on websites of well-known and trusted ‘high street’ bookmakers.

Company identification with the player – One of the most important things about brands for the gaming industry is that they help consumers define their self-image and who they are – at least on some psychological level. For some people, this ‘personal branding’ may be more important than their social identities within a community. For example, the car they drive or the newspaper they read, are particularly strong cultural indicators of what sort of person they are. Where they gamble and on what games can be an extension of this. However, total trust acceptance may also lead to an uncritical assessment of acceptability by the punter. For instance, some trusted non-gambling websites now provide links and endorsements to either their own gambling sites, or those of affiliates. Our gaming research unit  highlighted a case of an online problem gambler who had been led to an online gambling site by watching a popular (and trusted) daytime television programme that promoted its own online gaming site.

Social responsibility – As mentioned above, ‘trustmarks’ are likely to be important in relation to social responsibility and the perception of it by players. In studies conducted by our gaming research unit with online gamblers around the world, we found that many of them felt that responsible gaming practises demonstrate that a gaming operator has integrity, and that they care about their players’ wellbeing. For instance, many online poker players did not want their winnings to come from players who could not afford to lose it. They reported that responsible gaming practises allowed them to feel comfortable that their winnings had not come from people with gambling problems. Given that one of the biggest obstacles that prevent people playing online is a lack of trust of operators, this is a significant and important finding that gaming operators should take not of. 

For me, all of these five factors are highly inter-linked. However, I believe that those who end up being the most successful online gaming companies will be the ones with the best social responsibility protocols and infrastructure, and that this will engender trust among its clientele.

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

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Behavioral tracking tools, regulation and corporate social responsibility in online gambling. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 579-583.

Auer, M., Littler, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Legal aspects of responsible gaming pre-commitment and personal feedback initiatives. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 6, 444-456.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Brand psychology: Social acceptability and familiarity that breeds trust and loyalty. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 69-72.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Online trust and Internet gambling. World Online Gambling Law Report, 8(4), 14-16.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Social responsibility and trust in online gambling: Six steps to success. i-Gaming Business, 61, 36-37.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet gambling, player protection and social responsibility. In R. Williams, R. Wood & J. Parke (Ed.), Routledge Handbook of Internet Gambling (pp.227-249). London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2008). Responsible gaming and best practice: How can academics help? Casino and Gaming International, 4(1), 107-112.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2009). Centralised gaming models and social responsibility. Casino and Gaming International., 5(2), 65-69.

Griffiths, M.D., Wood, R.T.A., Parke, J. & Parke, A. (2007). Gaming research and best practice: Gaming industry, social responsibility and academia. Casino and Gaming International, 3(3), 97-103.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2009). Centralised gaming models and social responsibility. Casino and Gaming International., 5(2), 65-69.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths. M.D. (2008). Why Swedish people play online poker and factors that can increase or decrease trust in poker websites: A qualitative investigation. Journal of Gambling Issues, 21, 80-97.

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 March 27, 2016, in Cyberpsychology, Gambling, Gambling addiction, Games, Marketing, Online addictions, Online gambling, Problem gamblng, Psychology, Social Networking, Technological addiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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