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The ‘real feel’ deal and the psychology of online gambling experiences

Online gambling regulation is a hot topic and many online gaming operators are wondering what the effect of increased (and arguably stricter) legislative measures will have on the online gaming market. Based on the online gambling studies that our research unit has carried out, I would guess that overall it is good news for the industry as I believe this will lead to an increased uptake by those people who are somewhat sceptical or agnostic about online gambling. So why do I think this?

Despite the increase in online gambling research over the last ten years, there has been very little empirical research examining why people gamble online or – just as importantly – why they don’t gamble online. Because there is so little research in this area, Dr Abby McCormack and I published a study in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction with adult online and offline gamblers examining the motivating and inhibiting factors in online gambling.

Our findings on the inhibiting factors of online gambling identified one major overarching theme as to what people don’t like about gambling online. In a nutshell, gamblers said that the authenticity of gambling was reduced when gambling online. However, many online gaming operators have now introduced more ‘realistic’ live gaming experiences (e.g., via webcams) so this may diminish over time. However, we also identified other online gaming inhibitors (i.e., the asocial nature and characteristics of the internet, the reduced psychological value of gambling with virtual money, and concerns about the safety of online gambling websites and their trustworthiness). These factors all contributed to the reduced authenticity of the online gambling experience.

Issues around website security, safety and trust, were all major inhibitors that decreased the likelihood of punters gambling online. Predictably, we found that online gamblers were much more likely than the offline gamblers and non-gamblers to believe that the gambling websites were secure. However, there was a perception that some websites were considered more trustworthy than others, and consequently the gamblers generally played on well known sites (e.g., companies that were well established offline).

So what are the implications of these findings for stricter online gaming regulation? From a psychological perspective, research on how and why people access commercial websites indicates that one of the most important factors is trust. If people know and trust the name, they are more likely to use that service. Reliability of the service provider is also a related key factor. Stricter regulation is likely to increase consumer confidence if they feel more protected when they perceive the service to be unfair and/or goes wrong. It is likely to change sceptical gamblers’ perceptions about the reliability and trustworthiness of online gaming operators for the better (no pun intended!).

Even with increased protective legislation, research shows that some punters will always have concerns about Internet security and may never be happy about putting their personal details online. But this mistrust will diminish over the long-term as the ‘screenagers’ of today (the so-called ‘digital natives’) are the potential gamblers of tomorrow. Digital natives generally have more positive attitudes towards online commercial operations. Today’s children and younger adolescents have never known a world without the Internet, mobile phones and interactive television, and are therefore tech-savvy, have no techno-phobia, and are very trusting of these new technologies. For many ‘screenagers’, their first gambling experiences may come not in a traditional offline environment but via the Internet, mobile phone or interactive television. Stricter regulation may not even be an issue for tomorrow’s gamblers as they are already accessing a myriad of online services and are highly trusting of such services.

Despite the lack of trust by some players, the online gaming industry shouldn’t be too worried about stricter regulation. The prevalence of online gambling is steadily increasing and there are lots of reasons why some punters prefer online to offline gambling. Our research findings indicate that those who prefer online (to offline) gambling like the increased convenience, the greater value for money, the greater variety of games, and the anonymity.

Furthermore, online gambling has many advantages for punters as it saves time because they don’t have to travel anywhere, they are not restricted by opening hours, and they can gamble from the comfort of their own home. The removal of unnecessary time consumption (e.g., travelling to a gambling venue) through online gambling is another barrier to gambling participation that had been removed. Increased regulation is highly unlikely to change any of these important motivating factors for gambling online.

Finally, compared to offline gamblers, our research also indicates that online gamblers are more likely to be male, young adults, single, have good qualifications, and in professional and managerial employment. Given this particular demographic profile, this group appears to be highly educated, and are likely to make well informed decisions to gamble online based on due consideration of the facts at hand. Again, stricter regulation is something that is likely to strengthen the decision to gamble rather than inhibit it.

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

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.

McCormack. A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Motivating and inhibiting factors in online gambling behaviour: A grounded theory study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 39-53.

McCormack. A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). What differentiates professional poker players from recreational poker players? A qualitative interview study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 243-257.

McCormack, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). A scoping study of the structural and situational characteristics of internet gambling. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 3(1), 29-49.

McCormack, A., Shorter, G. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). An examination of participation in online gambling activities and the relationship with problem gambling. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 2(1), 31-41.

McCormack, A., Shorter, G. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Characteristics and predictors of problem gambling on the internet. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 11, 634-657.

Parke, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Poker gambling virtual communities: The use of Computer-Mediated Communication to develop cognitive poker gambling skills. International Journal of Cyber Behavior, Psychology and Learning, 1(2), 31-44.

Parke, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Effects on gambling behaviour of developments in information technology: A grounded theoretical framework. International Journal of Cyber Behaviour, Psychology and Learning, 1(4), 36-48.

Parke, A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Beyond illusion of control: An interpretative phenomenological analysis of gambling in the context of information technology. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 250-260.

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.