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Game on: A brief look at gambling on eSports

Like daily fantasy sports, betting on eSports (i.e., professional video gaming) has increased in popularity over the last few years and has given rise to allegations of unregulated and underage gambling. The eSports market is large. According to a 2016 report by Superdata, professional eSports is growing exponentially and is worth an estimated $612 (US) million a year. Furthermore, Eilers and Krejcik Gaming estimate that real money betting on eSports betting will reach $10 billion (US) by 2020. The professionalization and sportification of this entertainment form has brought sports-world elements to it: stadium-like facilities, cheering stands, sponsors, big rewards, and competition. Instant replays, jumbotrons (i.e., super-huge television screens), and referees add to the sport dramatisation. In some notorious cases, prizes have gone beyond the $10 million [US] threshold in a packed arena housing 73,000 fans. According to by John McMullan and Delthia Miller in a 2008 issue of the Journal of Gambling Issues, sportification is the process of incorporating the logics of sport to non-sporting contexts (e.g., poker, eSports. This can materialise in many ways but most commonly occurs when (i) other industries capitalise on the positive attributes of sport (e.g., popularity, engagement, or sanity and health inferences); and (ii) non-sport fields try to increase the entertainment and playability of their products and their association with joy and excitement.

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Twitch, an online platform that streams live video gaming, informs its’ advertisers that it has 100 million monthly viewers, who watch for an average of 106 minutes a day. Betting on eSports presents new challenges. As a news report in Bloomberg news observed in relation to betting on the game Counterstrike: Global Offensive (CSGO):

“Gambling – licensed, regulated, and by adults – is generally accepted in eSports. There is growing concern, though, that teenagers are being attracted to different forms of betting facilitated by third-party providers. One such platform is CSGO Lounge (an independent site not affiliated with Valve Software, which develops the game itself). The site allows spectators to bet in-game add-ons known as skins – weapons, tools and the like – on the results of matches. Not all skins are created equal, and the rarity of some means they can cost hundreds of real dollars on marketplace sites like SkinXchange.com. The temptation is too much for some”.

Put simply, skin gambling is the use of virtual goods and items (typically cosmetic elements that have no direct influence on gameplay) as virtual currency to bet on the outcome of professional matches. The Bloomberg article also claims on the basis of interviews with industry insiders that underage skin gambling is a “huge problem”. Justin Carlson (lead developer of SkinXchange) claims there are “countless” parents whose children have used their credit cards without their knowledge to buy skins and bet on gaming on other sites. Although anecdotal, Carlson claims that some minors have “racked up hundreds or thousands of dollars in skins on ‘SkinXchange’ just to lose them all on some betting or jackpot site”. It’s clear that people trading skins in eSports has grown over the last few years and various regulators around the world – such as the UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) – are considering regulation and says it is an “emerging product” and an “area for continuing future focus”. More specifically, the UKGC’s 2016 Annual Report notes:

 “The growing market in esports and computer gaming has scope to present issues for regulation and player protection – issues which are being examined by gambling regulators in other international markets…These issues range from the emergence of real money esports betting markets, to trading in-game items which blur the lines between gambling and social gaming. Our focus will be to understand developments, including engaging with key stakeholders, and we will work wherever we can to ensure the risks associated with these, particularly to children and young people, are minimised”.

One of the complicating factors for eSports gambling is that while cash is the currency for many gamblers, there is a growing trend towards the use of virtual currencies, or ‘in-game items’ which, according to the UKGC, can be “won, traded, sold or used as virtual currency to gamble with and converted into money or money’s worth”. These, according to the UKGC, “include digital commodities (such as ‘skins’) which can be won or purchased within the confines of computer games and can then be used as a form of virtual currency on a growing number of gambling websites”. No academic research has examined underage skin gambling but this is an issue that is unlikely to diminish over the coming years.

It is also worth noting that this massive interest in eSports followed by a massive audience has led most major betting operators to include eSports in their daily gambling offer. However, the singularities of eSports market pose new challenges that conventional online betting sites struggle to address. Suraj Gosai, co-founder of Blinkpool, an eSports dedicated betting platform, laid out two main problems: in-play betting limitations and odds algorithmic programming. For in-play betting to be viable, companies need to get access to reliable, instantaneous, and unambiguous data that can settle bets and separate winners from losers. Data companies like Perform do that in sport, and betting operators rely on their data to offer in-play action to gamblers. The problem in eSports is that actions are not as quantified and standardised as in real-life sports. To counteract that, Blinkpool created a computer vision technology that extracts data from real-time action and promotes hyper-contextual opportunities, that is, 10- to 45-second in-play betting mini-markets concerning very specific developments in the narrative of the games.

Odds programming in sports betting is fundamentally based on historical data from hundreds of thousands of games, from which each factor (home advantage, table position, head-to-head, etc.) is weighted in to determine the probability of an event occurring. In the fixed-odds betting market, the bookmaker makes available to bettors that probability plus a benefit margin. When placing a bet, an individual bets against the probability that the house has predicted. This is not yet feasible in eSports because the historical data are scarce and the modelling is complex. Companies are circumventing this problem by offering exchange betting rather than fixed-odds. This method comprises peer betting, that is, bettors do not bet against the house but between one another. This way, the house gets a commission from winning bets and operates a much less risky business.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addictions, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Bracken, G. (2016). We hope to be the home of eSports betting. Gambling Insider. Available from: https://www.gamblinginsider.com/in-depth/1909/we-hope-to-be-the-home-of-esports-betting

Gambling Commission (2015). Explaining our approach to social gaming. Located at: http://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/Gambling-data-analysis/Social-media/Explaining-our-approach-to-social-gaming.aspx

Gambling Commission (2016). Annual Report 2015/16. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

McMullan, J. L., & Miller, D. (2008). All in! The commercial advertising of offshore gambling on television. Journal of Gambling Issues, 22, 230-251.

Melbourne, K. & Campbell, M. (2015). Professional gaming may have an underage gambling problem. Bloomberg, September 7. Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-09-07/professional-video-gaming-has-an-underage-gambling-problem

Superdata (2016). eSports Market Report. Available at: https://www.superdataresearch.com/market-data/esports-market-brief/

Wingfield, N. (2014) In e-Sports, video gamers draw real crowds and big money. New York Times, August 30. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/31/technology/esports-explosion-brings-opportunity-riches-for-video-gamers.html?_r=0

Wood, J. (2016). UK Gambling Commission: We’ll work to minimize risks from emerging esports betting markets. Esports Betting Report, July 19. Available at: http://www.esportsbettingreport.com/uk-regulators-address-esports-betting/

Method factors: The cognitive psychology of gambling (revisited)

One of the proudest moments of my academic career was when my 1994 study on the role of cognitive bias in slot machine gambling published in the British Journal of Psychology was introduced as a compulsory study that all ‘A’ Level students on the OCR syllabus have to learn about here in the UK. Today’s blog looks at that 1994 study in context.

I began a PhD on the psychology of slot machines back in 1987 and spent the first three or four months reading everything I could about how psychological research methods had been used to study this relatively new area of research. As a PhD student, the paper that really inspired me was a pioneering study by George Anderson and Iain Brown (also published in the British Journal of Psychology in 1984). Up until the mid-1980s almost all of the experimental work on the psychology of gambling had been done in laboratory settings and the question of ecological validity was something that I had great concerns about. I didn’t want to study gamblers in a psychology laboratory, I wanted to examine them in the gambling environments themselves. Anderson and Brown studied the role of arousal in gambling and used heart rate measures as an indicator of arousal. They found that regular gamblers’ heart rates increased significantly by around 23 beats per minute (compared to baseline resting levels) when they were gambling in a casino but when doing the same activity in a laboratory setting there was no significant increase in heart rate. To me, this perhaps explained why previous studies on arousal during laboratory gambling had failed to find significant heart rate increases above baseline levels.

Anderson and Brown claimed that Skinnerian reinforcement theory couldn’t account for the phenomenology of addictive gambling (especially relapse after abstinence). As a result of their ecologically valid experimental study, Anderson and Brown postulated a theoretical model centred upon individual differences in cortical and autonomic arousal in combination with irregular reinforcement schedules. They argued for a neo-Pavlovian model in which arousal played a central role in the addiction process. According to Anderson and Brown this model accounts for reinstatement after abstinence and allows for the maintenance of the behaviour by internal mood/state/arousal cues in addition to external situation cues. I found this theoretical perspective too restrictive and believed that gambling addiction was a more complex process and was the consequence of a combination of a person’s biological/genetic predisposition, their psychological make-up (personality, attitudes, beliefs, expectations, etc.), and the environment they were brought up in. This is what most people would now recognize as a biopsychosocial perspective that runs through much of my subsequent writing and research. Added to this, I passionately believed there were other important factors at play including the situational factors of where the activity took place such as the design of the gambling environment, and the structural features of the activity itself such as the speed of play and ambient factors like lights, colour, noise and music.

My 1994 study found that regular gamblers produced significantly more irrational verbalisations that non-regular gamblers. (The ethics committee wouldn’t let me use non-gamblers as they didn’t want participants to be introduced to gambling via a university research study!). One of the most observations in my study was that regular gamblers personified the machine and often treated the machine as if it was a person. They attributed thought processes to it and would talk to it as if it could actually hear them. Another of the more interesting observations concerned ‘the psychology of the near miss’ (or more accurately. ‘the near win’). I noticed that when I used the ‘thinking aloud method’ as a way of gaining direct cognitive access to what gamblers were thinking as they played a slot machine, regular gamblers often explained away their losses and changed clear losing situations into near winning ones. On a cognitive level gamblers weren’t constantly losing, they were constantly nearly winning, and this, I argued, was both psychologically and physiologically rewarding for them. (I also did a study where I measured gamblers’ heart rates in an amusement arcade where, like Anderson and Brown I found regular gamblers had significantly increased heart rates when compared to baseline resting levels).

Anyone reading my 1994 paper will instantly spot what appears to be a major limitation of the study – the fact that there was no inter-rater reliability in the coding of the verbalisations that I transcribed. Could this be (as some have argued) the Achilles Heel of the study? I have argued that in the context of this study having a second rater might have added a confounding variable in itself. Another rater wouldn’t have had the time with the data that I had and wouldn’t have been there at the time of the experiment. In short, ‘not being there’ would have been a great disadvantage to a second coder as they would not have understood the context in which various verbalizations were made. I transcribed each tape straight after each trial so that I could remember the context of everything that was said by each player. I would also add that this was one study that was done in conjunction with lots of others simultaneously (the details of which are provided below).

The work of Dr. Paul Delfabbro in Australia built on my idea of analysing gamblers within session and postulated that gambling is maintained by winning and losing sequences within the operant conditioning paradigm (i.e., that the only rewards and reinforcers in gambling are purely monetary). I then argued in response to that paper (in a 1999 issue of the British Journal of Psychology) that Delfabbro’s contribution was too narrow in its focus in that they had taken no account of the ‘near miss’ in relation to operant conditioning theory and that there may be other reinforcers that play a role in the maintenance process (such as physiological rewards, psychological rewards, and social rewards). I also argued that gambling was biopsychosocial behaviour and should therefore be explained by a biopsychosocial account.

My 1994 study showed that gamblers could be studied in real-life contexts and that useful data could be collected. It also showed the complexity of gambling and that gamblers could turn apparently objective outcomes (i.e., losing) into ones that were highly subjective (i.e., near winning ones). I also showed that this had implications for treatment and that maybe these cognitive biases could be used by psychologists as a way of ‘re-educating’ gamblers through some kind of ‘cognitive correction’ technique. I should also point out that this one experimental study was one small part of a much bigger jigsaw. What I mean by this is that my 1994 shouldn’t be seen in isolation but read along with my simultaneous observational studies of arcade gamblers, my other experimental studies, my semi-structured interview studies, surveys, and my case studies. All of these studies as a whole were featured in my first book (Adolescent Gambling, published in1995).

My work into the role of cognitive bias in gambling and gambling addiction also led to me studying behavioural addictions more generally. Since I finished my PhD I have branched out and carried out research into videogame addiction, Internet addiction, sex addiction, work addiction, and exercise addiction. Many psychologists don’t view excessive behaviour as an addiction, but for me gambling is the ‘breakthrough’ addiction. I have argued that when gambling is taken to excess it can be comparable to other more recognised addictions like alcoholism. If you accept that gambling can be a genuine addiction, there is no theoretical reason why other behaviours when taken to excess cannot be considered potentially addictive if ‘gambling addiction’ exists.

A key difference between excessive use and addiction is the detrimental effects (or lack of) that arise as a result of that behaviour. When people are addicted to a behaviour that becomes the single most important thing in their life, they compromise everything else in their life to do it. A person’s job/work, personal relationships and hobbies are severely compromised. The basic difference between an excessive healthy enthusiasm and an addiction is that healthy enthusiasms add to life – addictions take away from it. This is very much a (non-psychological) lay view, but there is a lot of truth in it.

I am the first to admit that my 1994 study when taken in isolation is hardly up there with the ‘classic’ studies of Freud, Watson, Skinner or Milgram. However, as part of two decades of other research into gambling and other potentially excessive behaviours I would like to think I have had an influence in my field. Only time will tell.

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

Allegre, B., Souville, M., Therme, P. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Definitions and measures of exercise dependence, Addiction Research and Theory,14, 631-646.

Anderson, G. and Brown, R.I.F. (1984). Real and laboratory gambling, sensation seeking and arousal. British Journal of Psychology, 75, 401-410.

Delfabbro, P. & Winefield, A.H. (1999). Poker machine gambling: An analysis of within-session characteristics. British Journal of Psychology, 90, 425-439.

Griffiths, M.D. (1990). The acquisition, development and maintenance of fruit machine gambling. Journal of Gambling Studies, 6, 193-204.

Griffiths, M.D. (1991a). The observational study of adolescent gambling in UK amusement arcades. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 1, 309-320.

Griffiths, M.D. (1991b). Fruit machine addiction: Two brief case studies. British Journal of Addiction, 85, 465.

Griffiths, M.D. (1993a). Fruit machine gambling: The importance of structural characteristics. Journal of Gambling Studies, 9, 101-120.

Griffiths, M.D. (1993b). Tolerance in gambling: An objective measure using the psychophysiological analysis of male fruit machine gamblers. Addictive Behaviors, 18, 365-372.

Griffiths, M.D. (1993c). Pathological gambling: Possible treatment using an audio playback technique. Journal of Gambling Studies, 9, 295-297.

Griffiths, M.D. (1993d). Factors in problem adolescent fruit machine gambling: Results of a small postal survey. Journal of Gambling Studies, 9, 31-45.

Griffiths, M.D. (1993e). Fruit machine addiction in adolescence: A case study. Journal of Gambling Studies, 9, 387-399.

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). The role of cognitive bias and skill in fruit machine gambling. British Journal of Psychology, 85, 351-369.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995a). The role of subjective mood states in the maintenence of gambling behaviour, Journal of Gambling Studies, 11, 123-135.

Griffiths, M.D. (1995b). Adolescent gambling. London: Routledge.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). The psychology of the near miss (revisited): A comment on Delfabbro and Winefield. British Journal of Psychology, 90, 441-445.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A “components” model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Diagnosis and management of video game addiction. New Directions in Addiction Treatment and Prevention, 12, 27-41.

Griffiths, M.D. & Delfabbro, P. (2001). The biopsychosocial approach to gambling: Contextual factors in research and clinical interventions. Journal of Gambling Issues, 5, 1-33.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed.), Gambling: Who wins? Who Loses? pp. 277-292. New York: Prometheus Books.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics (revisited). International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 151-179.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.211-243. New York: Elsevier.

Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Internet addiction: A critical review. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 31-51.

Inter-bet gambling: The psychology of online sports betting

Until the early 2000s, there appeared to be a commonly held perception that consumers viewed the Internet as an information gathering tool rather than a place to spend money. The explosive growth in online gambling and betting shows this is no longer true. For me, one of the interesting questions is how gaming companies use the psychology of people who like to gamble on sports events to get them to access sports betting sites (especially if it is done in a socially responsible way that enhances the punter’s experience rather than exploits them).

Trust and reliability: Let’s look at sports betting from an individual level. A sports fan has logged on to the Internet and is in the process of deciding which online sports betting website to make a beeline for. What kinds of things influence their decision? A recommendation from one of their friends? Advice from a gambling portal? An advert they saw in a magazine? From a psychological perspective, research on how and why people access particular 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 is also a related key factor. Research shows that many people (including sports bettors) still have concerns about Internet security and may not be happy about putting their personal details online. But if there is a reliable offline branch nearby, it gives them an added sense of security (i.e., a psychological safety net). For some people, trust and security issues will continue to be important inhibitors of online gambling. Punters need assurance and compelling value propositions from trusted gaming operators and operators to overcome these concerns.

Personalization: One of the growth areas in e-commerce has been personalization and most online commercial organisations now have a personalization strategy as part of its business plan. However, this practice is a double-edged sword that can prove to be a large logistical problem for companies who use such a strategy. Tracking every move for marketing purposes is one thing. Using these data for personalization purposes can sometimes prove troublesome. The amount of data is potentially enormous. Producing personalized pages for everyone is also logistically difficult and may even turn potential punters away. The key is knowing what to ask the punter. Those in the gaming industry have to think intelligently and creatively about what to ask their customers in a way that the information gained can be used effectively. Attracting customers and providing recommendations relies on the those in the gaming industry putting punters first. Integration can also be a factor here. The industry has to think of creative ways to make the website experience more personal.

Imprinting: One of the most important marketing strategies that companies engage in is “imprinting” new customers. Online punters quickly adopt predictable Internet usage patterns and evidence suggests that they don’t switch online allegiances easily. Smart gaming operators will work at becoming a starting point for the novice gambler and capitalize on this opportunity for capturing player loyalty. The emerging post-teenage market is a key consideration although from a social responsibility perspective thought needs to be given so that teenagers are not exploited. There is a whole Internet generation of people coming through who have a positive outlook on online commercial activities. They may be happier to enter credit card details online and/or meet others online. This has the potential to lead to major clientele changes as the profiles of these people may be radically different from previous punters. The problem is that the young don’t tend to have much disposable income and are less likely to own credit cards. Therefore, another market segment that operators need to target to are the over-50s who are starting to use the Internet for shopping and entertainment use. Early retirees have both time and money. This is why gaming operators need to strategically target the ‘grey pound.’

Contextual commerce: So what can operators do next? Contextual commerce may be one avenue that gaming operators will need to go down. In most retail outlets, shoppers notice what other people are buying and this may influence the purchaser’s choice. Companies are now using software that allows customers to do this online including interacting with other like-minded people. Seeing what everyone else is betting on may influence the decision process. There is also the potential to bring in techniques used on home television shopping channels. Presenters tell viewers how much of a product has been sold with viewers to instil a sense of urgency into the buying process, along with an element of peer review. This could be applied by gaming operators if people are gambling as part of a sports betting community.

Getting the balance right on the chance-skill dimension: All forms of gambling lie on a chance-skill dimension. Neither games of pure skill nor games of pure chance are particularly attractive to sports gamblers. Games of chance (like lotteries) offer no significant edge to sports gamblers and are unlikely to be gambled upon. While games of skill provide a significant edge for the gambler, serious gamblers need more than an edge – they often need an opponent who can be exploited (which helps explain the popularity of online poker). Serious gamblers gravitate towards types of gambling that provide an appropriate mix of chance and skill. This is one of the reasons why sports betting – and in particular activities like horse race betting – is so popular for gamblers. The edge available in horse race gambling can be sufficient to fully support professional gamblers as they bring their wide range of knowledge to the activity. There is the complex interplay of factors that contributes to the final outcome of the race.

Inter-gambler competition and the exercise of skill: Over the last few years I have often been asked by the media about the increasing popularity of online sports betting, particularly in relation to betting exchanges. Psychologists claim that male gamblers are attracted to sports betting because they love competitiveness. Sports bettors clearly feel that gambling via betting exchanges provides value for money and an opportunity to exercise their skill. Another important factor that I feel is really important in the rise of sports betting is not just the inherent competiveness but also the inter-gambler competition. Obviously there is an overlap between competitiveness and skill but they are certainly not the same and operators need to show how the sites they recommend feed into the psychological needs and desires of the sports bettor.

I’m sure many people’s view of psychology is that it is little more than common sense (and to be honest, some of it is). However, I hope that some of what I had to offer in the rest of this blog was more than just common sense.

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.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Online betting exchanges: A brief overview. Youth Gambling International, 5(2), 1-2.

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. (2009). Social responsibility in gambling: The implications of real-time behavioural tracking. Casino and Gaming International, 5(3), 99-104.

Griffiths, M.D. & Whitty, M.W. (2010). Online behavioural tracking in Internet gambling research: Ethical and methodological issues. International Journal of Internet Research Ethics, 3, 104-117.

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.

Parke, A., Griffiths, M.D. & Irwing, P. (2004). Personality traits in pathological gambling: Sensation seeking, deferment of gratification and competitiveness as risk factors, Addiction Research and Theory, 12, 201-212.

Recher, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). An exploratory qualitative study of online poker professional players. Social Psychological Review, 14(2), 13-25.

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.

Bet, bet, bet: How to gamble responsibly during the football World Cup

With the football World Cup kicking off later today, I thought I would use my blog to give my readers some advice on gambling responsibly over the next month. As much as I want England to win, the humid conditions will be a major disadvantage. Yesterday I published an article on why I think Brazil will win (which you can read here). Given my academic background it may come as little surprise that when I gamble, I expect to lose in the long run. However, that is not to say that I don’t have my ‘Top 10 Golden Rules’ that I apply in gambling situations. Some might say my rules are about the psychology of winning but I would prefer to describe them as the psychology of minimizing losses! In some situations, there is a very fine line between psychology and common sense and this is one of those occasions. So here goes.

(1) Never gamble without some kind of pre-set plan and amount that you are prepared and/or can afford to lose. Winning gamblers set themselves win/loss goals before they enter a betting shop or use an online betting exchange. Planning and goals are the catalyst to life success and gambling on the World Cup should be no different. Don’t use any winnings as a reason to place even more bets and never – under no circumstances – chase your losses.

(2) Don’t let the excitement – or the lack of it – of a football match detract from the pre-set plan you started with. If you are watching a World Cup game and your only wager is on who will win or lose, then don’t get carried away with the excitement of the game. When the game itself is dull, don’t get side tracked by gambling on spontaneous ‘in-play’ side bets during the game to increase the excitement. If you do like a little in-play action, give yourself the option of (say) five in-play bets (or whatever you can afford to lose) and stick to it no matter what.

(3) Remember that the excitement of gambling itself can lead to irrational thought processes. Psychological research has consistently shown that when gamblers are in the thick of their gambling ‘action’, they tend to be more irrational in how they think and make decisions. Irrationality leads to poor decision-making and pre-set plans and budgets often go out of the window. Just like alcohol, gambling can make the betting punter do things that they would never have done in the cold light of day.

(4) Do your research when using promotions. As a general rule, betting promotions are the highest money earners for the gambling establishment’s marketing department. They are designed to get you to gamble or to get you gambling in the first place or on something new. Avoid gambling with offers that seem too good to be true (because they usually are). Stick with your pre-set plan and budget and you’ll be fine. If through your research you find a good promotion that suits your betting needs, then by all means use it. Just don’t use promotions impulsively or use the first promotion that you see.

(5) Learn to think for yourself. General advice (like that contained in this article) is one thing. Winners learn to sort things out for themselves and not rely on others. They are comfortable with how they approach their betting. You should also disregard rumours. Gambling can often invoke certain urban myths, such as “your first bet after opening an Internet gambling account is always a winning one’.” Banking on such speculation while betting is a recipe for disaster.

(6) Do your own ‘research’. As with any other product that involves the exchange of money, making bets on World Cup football requires that you do the research to establish the best deals around. This is especially useful on Internet gambling sites and betting exchanges via mobile phones and tablets but can be applied to offline gambling too. Only factual information should inform your decision-making when betting.

(7) Gamble with your head and not with your heart. When it comes to gambling on the football team I support (in my case, England) I try to employ strategies that leave me feeling good whatever the outcome. That is why (from a psychological perspective) I tend to bet against England. I ask myself how much I would you be prepared to pay to see England progress in the tournament? If England get to the World Cup Final I would be more than happy to pay £100 to see them do it therefore I would happily put £100 on England’s opponents to win. My logic has always been that I win either way. If England win the game, I will be on an ecstatic high. I wouldn’t care about losing £100. If England lose the game, as at least I would have the winnings to soften the blow!

I can’t promise that these tips will help anyone win lots of money, but they will certainly help you minimize any losses!

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

Further reading

Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Limit setting and player choice in most intense online gamblers: An empirical study of online gambling behaviour. Journal of Gambling Studies, 29, 647-660.

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. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Personalised feedback in the promotion of responsible gambling: A brief overviewResponsible Gambling Review, 1, 27-36.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Does advertising of gambling increase gambling addiction? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 3(2), 15-25.

Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of gambling: The best laid plans. Inside Edge: The Gambling Magazine, January (Issue 22), p. 72.

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. (2010). Online ads and the promotion of responsible gambling. World Online Gambling Law Report, 9(6), 14.

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. (2012).Self-exclusion services for online gamblers: Are they about responsible gambling or problem gambling?World Online Gambling Law Report, 11(6), 9-10.

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. (2009). Social responsibility tools in online gambling: A survey of attitudes and behaviour among Internet gamblers. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 12, 413-421.

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.

Smeaton, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Internet gambling and social responsibility: An exploratory study, CyberPsychology and Behavior, 7, 49-57.

Wood, R.T.A., Shorter, G.W. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Rating the suitability of responsible gambling features for specific game types: A resource for optimizing responsible gambling strategy. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 94–112.

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.

A toning for reward and punishment: A brief look at the impact of colour on gambling behaviour

Researchers and those working in the gambling industry have been interested in the factors that lead to the acquisition, development and maintenance of gambling. Aside from individual differences, the combination of the situational characteristics of the environment, and the structural characteristics of the actual game being played have been highlighted as critical ingredients in determining these behaviours in relation to gambling. This idea parallels with that of store designers who manipulate various features of the environment in shops to encourage purchase behaviour in consumers.

Situational characteristics are typically those features of the environment that may encourage people to gamble in the first place, and in some cases to keep on gambling. Examples of such characteristics could include accessibility (e.g., the number of outlets or opportunities to gamble, membership rules); sensory factors (e.g., atmospherics, light, colour and sound effects); the use of advertising; access to other things (e.g., cash machines, alcohol, food); physical comfort (e.g., seating, temperature); and social facilitation (the presence or absence of other people in the vicinity). These are often acquisition factors and are often important in the initial decision for an individual to gamble. Structural characteristics are features of the game itself that can contribute to the development and maintenance of gambling behaviour. These can be reinforcing to the player as they offer constant rewards. For instance, the ‘aura’ of a slot machine may offer excitement, arousal and tension in terms of its high event frequency, near misses, stake size, and the use of music, lights and colour.

One characteristic that can impact on both a situational and structural level in gambling is colour. For instance, this can be manipulated and/or adapted in terms of the design of a slot machine or scratchcard, an Internet gambling website, or the décor and ambience of a gambling environment. Research more specifically into the psychology of colour has been somewhat controversial in how it affects individual emotions. The majority of literature in the colour psychology field has come from advertising and marketing papers. This is because they are interested in colour selection in the way that it may facilitate the sale of their products. It has been speculated that learning about consumers’ emotional reactions to colour can be a useful predictor of purchase behaviour. This is because certain colours can provoke a particular positive or negative reaction. For instance, red has consistently been found to be stronger, more exciting, and more arousing than blue. This concept has been applied in a variety of situations in an attempt to manipulate people’s behaviours. However, a lot of this evidence is anecdotal, as it is not based on any sort of controlled experimental design.

Colour preference has been explained in terms of cultural significance and associative learning. It has been suggested that associations of colour that have been developed in the past have been forwarded as explanations of perceptions of colour today. For example, blue has been associated with night, dark and quiet. Warm colours, such as red, are used in order to attempt to arouse consumers such as in gambling environments. Across cultures, red has predominantly been found to be the most effective in influencing human emotions. Individual responses to colour have also been explained in relation to the arousal that they produce. It has been suggested that colours that are on the extreme ends of the colour spectrum (e.g., red and violet) generate greater arousal than those in-between. However, when red and blue have been compared in terms of their influences on arousal, differences have been found between them, with red producing greater cortical arousal.

With regards to the gambling literature in this field there has been minimal research conducted looking at the impact of colour on gambling. In an observational  study I published with Helen Swift back in 1992, we reported our findings about various situational characteristics of five English amusement arcades. We noted that the interiors were generally red or towards the red end of the colour spectrum. This observation appears to suggest that gaming venue designers make use of the principle of red light exciting whilst gambling. Light and colour effects have developed in their sophistication over recent years and the gaming and casino industry have taken advantage of this when designing machines, games, and gaming venue interiors.

An old 1982 study by Graham Stark and colleagues in the journal Current Psychological Research provides one of the few empirical contributions assessing the effects of coloured light on gambling behaviour. Their study found that compared to gambling under blue light, gambling under red light leads to more risks taken, higher stakes made, and more frequent bets. They suggested that because blue is less arousing it leads to slower performance, as their attention is not specially focused on the task. As red was highly arousing it caused participants to focus on the salient aspects resulting in faster bets. The arousing effects of red were speculated to increase overt behaviour.

Similar types of research study have also been carried out on computer gaming. For instance, a study led by Dr. Sandy Wolfson in a 2000 issue of Interacting With Computers examined the effects of music and lighting on computer game play. It was found that red lighting led to participants underperforming in the latter games played (compared to blue), although initially both groups improved continuously. The red group’s heart rate also decreased in line with their decline in performance. This was explained in terms of red initially being more arousing, which led to higher concentration and less error rates than blue, but as time went on they became desensitized to its arousal.

A more recent experimental investigation by Jenny Spenwyn, Dr. Doug Barrett and myself in a 2010 issue of the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction reported what we believe was the first ever empirical study into the combined effects of both music and lighting colour on gambling behaviour. While playing an online version of roulette, participants took part in one of four experimental conditions; (1) gambling with fast tempo music under normal (white) light, (2) gambling with fast tempo music under red light, (3) gambling with slow tempo music under normal (white) light, and (4) gambling with slow tempo music under red light. We reported a significant interaction between light and music for betting speed, and that the speed at which participants gambled was increased while playing under red light and fast tempo music.

It is clear that situational characteristics of gambling environments (including colour) appear to have the potential to play a role in the acquisition, development and maintenance of gambling behaviour. The success of the gambling establishment’s situational and structural characteristics (where success is defined as an increase in gambling due to the situational or structural characteristic) depends upon the psycho-situational and/or psychostructural interaction. The importance of a characteristic approach to gambling is the possibility of pinpointing more accurately where an individual’s psychological constitution is influencing gambling behaviour. Such an approach also allows for psychologically context specific explanations of gambling behaviour rather than explanations that focus solely on personality and individual differences.

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

Further reading

Babin, B.J., Hardesty, D.M., & Suter, T.A. (2003). Colour and shopping intentions: The intervening effect of price fairness and perceived affect. Journal of Business Research, 56, 541-551.

Bellizi, J., Crowley, A.E., & Hasty, R.W. (1983). The effects of colour in store design. Journal of Retailing, 59, 21-45.

Bellizi, J. A. & Hite, R.E. (1992). Environmental colour, consumer feelings and purchase likelihood. Psychological Marketing, 9 (5), 347-363.

Friedman, B. (2000). Designing Casinos to Dominate the Competition. Reno, NV: Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, University of Nevada.

Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Fruit machine gambling: The importance of structural characteristics. Journal of Gambling Studies, 9, 101-120.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2003). The environmental psychology of gambling. In G. Reith (Ed), Gambling: Who wins? Who looses? pp. 277-292. New York: Prometheus Books.

Griffiths, M.D. & Swift, G. (1992). The use of light and colour in gambling arcades: A pilot study. Society for the Study of Gambling Newsletter, 21, 16-22.

Grossman, R. P., & Wisenblit, J. Z. (1999). What we know about consumers colour choices. Journal of Marketing Practice: Applied Marketing Science, 5 (3), 78-88.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The psychology of the fruit machine: The role of structural characteristics re-visited. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 4, 151-179.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.211-243. New York: Elsevier.

Spenwyn, J., Barrett, D.K.R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The role of lights and music in gambling behavior: An empirical pilot study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 107-118.

Stark, G.M., Saunders, D.M, & Wookey, P.E. (1982). Differential effects of red and blue coloured lighting on gambling behaviour. Current Psychological Research, 2, 95-99.

Valdez, P. & Mehrabian, A. (1994). Effects of colour on emotion. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 123 (4), 394-409.

Wolfson, S., & Case, G. (2000). The effects of sound and colour on responses to a computer game. Interacting With Computers, 13, 183-192.

Yoto, A., Katsuura, T., Iwanaga, K. & Shimomura, Y. (2007). Effects of object colour stimuli on human brain activities in perception and attention referred to EEG alpha band response. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, 26, 373-379.

Hit and myth: What should punters really know when gambling?

Yesterday, I appeared on a number of BBC radio programmes and in a number of papers talking about a blog I wrote for my university Olympic website about betting on Olympic sports. Today’s blog is it’s sister piece and can be read alongside that separate article. This particular blog came about when I was scouring the Internet and looking at a number of ‘Top Tips’ articles for gamblers. All of them claimed they would improve your chances of winning at a casino. On the surface, these common sense tips seemed reasonable enough but when I started to read them I realised the advice given was not based on any empirical evidence – just speculation, hearsay, and the writer’s own personal opinion. I thought I would use today’s blog to try and debunk a few of these myths!

Myth 1: Read all the books and advice you can: There is absolutely no harm in reading all you can on your chosen game as any of them will give you some basic information on the game, some betting techniques, and most likely some sound money management ideas. However, there is no evidence that reading on it’s own will help you win more. When learning a new game there is no substitute for making mistakes in the “school of hard knocks.” You will learn far more quickly while gambling than simply reading about it.

Myth 2: Practice makes perfect – Many ‘experts’ claim that when it comes to learning and practicing your game, you should do it at home or at one of the free ‘learn to play’ casino sessions. While it is clearly a lot cheaper to learn a new game from the comfort of your own home or a free session, nothing can prepare a punter for the psychological pressure than to practice under the circumstances and conditions in which the game is played for money. There has been a lot of research into what psychologists call “state dependent learning” which demonstrates that it is best to recall skills and information in the same environment and mood state that you practiced and learned under. The theory of state dependent learning also has implications for smokers and drinkers. If you practice while smoking and/or drinking at home, you are most likely to remember the skills and tricks you learned when in the same psychological state. This is particularly important in gambling environments that either bar smoking and/or drinking from the gaming tables. Another mistake commonly made by online poker players is where they believe their success on the ‘practice tables’ is a guide to their level of skill. In reality, players on the practice tables often play in a wreckless way, so even very poor players can appear successful.

Myth 3:  Have a winning attitude – When it comes to gambling, punters are advised not to gamble if they don’t have a positive attitude about winning. Firstly, just being positive is unlikely to significantly increase winnings although appearing confident in games like poker is clearly an advantage. However, having a positive outlook about losing may actually be disadvantageous and maladaptive in the long run. Our own research here at Nottingham Trent University has shown that positive thinking when losing acts as a guilt-reducing mechanism and is likely to result in such behaviours as ‘chasing’ which are financially detrimental in the long run.

Myth 4: Gamble in the small hours – One piece of advice I see cropping up again and again is that the best time to play is when no one else is there. Gamblers are advised to play very early in the morning from 2am until 5am. According to these ‘experts’, dealers and floor supervisors will be tired and looking to end their shift and may be prone to making more mistakes. Well, the same is true of the punter. Our inbuilt circadian rhythms mean that no human was meant to be awake or work through the night. The punter is just as likely to make mistakes as the casino staff. Card counting through the night without a break is likely to lead to as many mistakes as the dealer. What’s more, the dealers may change more often than you.

Myth 5: “Hide” your winnings – Casinos don’t like winners (except when they can be exploited for marketing purposes of course). Punters are therefore advised to disguise their wins and to prevent casino management from knowing how good players they really are by “hiding” their winnings. For instance, players are advised to get friends to cash out some of their chips for them when leaving the casino. There is also a view that cashiers take less notice of female players and are less likely to inform the pit bosses what they cashed out. However, any good casino knows its clientele, and knows who the winners are. There is no evidence to suggest that these tips on disguising your winnings have any benefit at all. Sure, if you are a card counter, be alert to casino counter-measures. If the casino is suspicious of you, they will use a number of measures such as premature shuffling, moving the cut card up towards the top of the deck to reduce penetration, and/or changing the cards, dealers or table limits only at your table. In short, casinos spot winners a mile off and little tricks to “hide” winnings are unlikely to help the punter.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). The role of cognitive bias and skill in fruit machine gambling. British Journal of Psychology, 85, 351-369.

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). Beating the fruit machine: Systems and ploys both legal and illegal. Journal of Gambling Studies, 10, 287-292.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Gambling psychology: Motivation, emotion and control, Casino and Gaming International, (3)4 (November), 71-76.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Casino design: Understanding gaming floor influences on player behaviour. Casino and Gaming International, 5(1), 21-26.

Griffiths, M.D., Parke, J., Wood, R.T.A. & Rigbye, J. (2010). Online poker gambling in university students: Further findings from an online survey. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 8, 82-89.

Parke, J., Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, A. (2007). Positive thinking among slot machine gamblers: A case of maladaptive coping? International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 5, 39-52.