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Place your bets: Has problem gambling in Great Britain decreased?

In the summer of 2014 I was commissioned to review problem gambling in Great Britain (the fall out of which I wrote about in detail in a previous blog). Earlier last year, a detailed report by Heather Wardle and her colleagues examined gambling behaviour in England and Scotland by combining the 2012 data from the Health Survey for England (HSE; n=8,291 aged 16 years and over) and the 2012 Scottish Health Survey (SHeS; n=4,815). To be included in the final data analysis, participants had to have completed at least one of the gambling participation questions. This resulted in a total sample of 11,774 participants. So what did the research find? Here is a brief summary of the main results:

  • Two-thirds of the sample (65%) had gambled in the past year, with men (68%) gambling more than women (62%). As with the British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS), past year participation was greatly influenced by the playing of the bi-weekly National Lottery (lotto) game. Removal of those individuals that only played the National Lottery meant that 43% had gambled during the past year (46% males and 40% females).
  • Gambling was more likely to be carried out by younger people (50% among those aged 16-24 years and 52% among those aged 25-34 years).
  • The findings were similar to the previous BGPS reports and showed that the most popular forms of gambling were playing the National Lottery (52%; 56% males and 49% females), scratchcards (19%; 19% males and 20% females), other lottery games (14%; 14% both males and females), horse race betting (10%; 12% males and 8% females), machines in a bookmaker (3%; 5% males and 1% females), slot machines (7%; 10% males and 4% females), online betting with a bookmaker (5%; 8% males and 2% females), offline sports betting (5%; 8% males and 1% females), private betting (5%; 8% males and 2% females), casino table games (3%; 5% males and 1% females), offline dog race betting (3%; 4% males and 2% females), online casino, slots and/or bing (3%; 4% males and 2% females), betting exchanges (1%; males 2% and females 0%), poker in pubs and clubs (1%; 2% males and 0% females), spread betting (1%; 1% males and 0% females).
  • The only form of gambling (excluding lottery games) where females were more likely to gamble was playing bingo (5%; 7% females and 3% males).
  • Most participants gambled on one or two different activities a year (1.7 mean average across the total sample).
  • Problem gambling assessed using the Problem Gambling Severity (PGSI) criteria was reported to be 0.4%, with males (0.7%) being significantly more likely to be problem gamblers than females (0.1%). This equates to approximately 180,200 British adults aged 16 years and over.
  • Problem gambling assessed using the criteria of the fourth Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) was reported to be 0.5%, with males (0.8%) being significantly more likely to be problem gamblers than females (0.1%). This equates to approximately 224,100 British adults aged 16 years and over.
  • Using the PGSI screen, problem gambling rates were highest among young men aged 16-24 years (1.7%) and lowest among men aged 65-74 years (0.4%). Using the DSM-IV screen, problem gambling rates were highest among young men aged 16-24 years (2.1%) and lowest among men aged over 74 years (0.4%).
  • Problem gambling rates were also examined by type of gambling activity. Results showed that among past year gamblers, problem gambling was highest among spread betting (20.9%), played poker in pubs or clubs (13.2%), bet on other events with a bookmaker (12.9%), bet with a betting exchange (10.6%) and played machines in bookmakers (7.2%).
  • The activities with the lowest rates of problem gambling were playing the National Lottery (0.9%) and scratchcards (1.7%).
  • Problem gambling rates were highest among individuals that had participated in seven or more activities in the past year (8.6%) and lowest among those that had participated in a single activity (0.1%).

The authors also carried out a latent class analysis and identified seven different types of gambler among both males and females. The male groups comprised:

  • Cluster A: non-gamblers (33%)
  • Cluster B: National Lottery only gamblers (22%)
  • Cluster C: National Lottery and scratchcard gamblers only (20%)
  • Cluster D: Minimal, no National Lottery [gambling on 1-2 activities] (9%)
  • Cluster E: Moderate [gambling on 3-6 activities] (12%)
  • Cluster F: Multiple [gambling on 6-10 activities] (3%)
  • Cluster G: multiple, high [gambling on at least 11 activities] (1%).

The female groups comprised:

  • Cluster A: non-gamblers (40%)
  • Cluster B: National Lottery only gamblers (21%)
  • Cluster C: National Lottery and scratchcard gamblers only (7%)
  • Cluster D: Minimal, no National Lottery (8%)
  • Cluster E: moderate, less varied [2-3 gambling activities, mainly lottery-related] (8%)
  • Cluster F: moderate, more varied [2-3 gambling activities but wider range of activities] (6%)
  • Cluster G: multiple [gambling on at least four activities] (6%)

Using these groupings, the prevalence of male problem gambling was highest among those in Cluster G: multiple high group (25.0%) followed by Cluster F: multiple group (3.3%) and Cluster E: moderate group (2.6%). The prevalence of problem gambling was lowest among those in the Cluster B; National Lottery Draw only group (0.1%) followed by Cluster C: minimal – lotteries and scratchcards group (0.7%). The prevalence of female problem gambling was highest among those in the Cluster G: multiple group (1.8%) followed by those in Cluster F: moderate – more varied group (0.6%). The number of female gamblers was too low to carry out any further analysis. The report also examined problem gambling (either DSM-IV or PGSI) by gambling activity type.

  • The prevalence of problem gambling was highest among spread-bettors (20.9%), poker players in pubs or clubs (13.2%), bettors on events other than sports or horse/dog races (12.9%), betting exchange users (10.6%) and those that played machines in bookmakers (7.2%).
  • The lowest problem gambling prevalence rates were among those that played the National Lottery (0.9%) and scratchcards (1.7%).
  • These figures are very similar to those found in the 2010 BGPS study although problem gambling among those that played machines in bookmakers was lower (7.2%) than in the 2010 BGPS study (8.8%).
  • As with the BGPS 2010 study, the prevalence of problem gambling was highest among those who had participated in seven or more activities in the past year (8.6%) and lowest among those who had taken part in just one activity (0.1%). Furthermore, problem gamblers participated in an average 6.6 activities in the past year.

Given that the same instruments were used to assess problem gambling, the results of the most recent surveys using data combined from the Health Survey for England (HSE) and Scottish Health Survey (SHeS) compared with the most recent British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) do seem to suggest that problem gambling in Great Britain has decreased over the last few years (from 0.9% to 0.5%). However, Seabury and Wardle again urged caution and noted:

“Comparisons of the combined HSE/SHeS data with the BGPS estimates should be made with caution. While the methods and questions used in each survey were the same, the survey vehicle was not. HSE and SHeS are general population health surveys, whereas the BGPS series was specifically designed to understand gambling behaviour and attitudes to gambling in greater detail. It is widely acknowledged that different survey vehicles can generate different estimates using the same measures because they can appeal to different types of people, with varying patterns of behaviour…Overall, problem gambling rates in Britain appear to be relatively stable, though we caution readers against viewing the combined health survey results as a continuation of the BGPS time series”.

There are other important caveats to take into account including the differences between the two screen tools used in the BGPS, HSE and SHeS studies. Although highly correlated, evidence from all the British surveys suggests that the PGSI and DSM-IV screens capture slightly different groups of problem gamblers. For instance, a 2010 study that I co-authored with Jim Orford, Heather Wardle, and others (in the journal International Gambling Studies) using data from the 2007 BGPS showed that the PGSI may under-estimate certain forms of gambling-related harm (particularly by women) that are more likely to be picked up by some of the DSM-IV items. Our analysis also suggested that the DSM-IV appears to measure two different factors (i.e., gambling-related harm and gambling dependence) rather than a single one. Another important distinction is that the two screens were developed for very different purposes (even though they are attempting to assess the same construct). The PGSI was specifically developed for use in population surveys whereas the DSM-IV was developed with clinical populations in mind. Given these differences, it is therefore unsurprising that national surveys that utilize the screens end up with slightly different results comprising slightly different groups of people.

It also needs stressing (as noted by the authors of most of the national gambling surveys in Great Britain) that the absolute number of problem gamblers identified in any of the surveys published to date has equated to approximately 60 people. To detect any significant differences statistically between any of the studies carried out to date requires very large sample sizes. Given the very low numbers of problem gamblers and the tiny number of pathological gamblers, it is hard to assess with complete accuracy whether there have been any significant changes in problem and pathological gambling between all the published studies over time. Wardle and her colleagues concluded that:

“Overall, based on this evidence, it appears that problem gambling rates in England and Scotland are broadly stable. Whilst problem gambling rates according to either the DSM-IV or the PGSI were higher in 2010, the estimate between 2007 and the health surveys data were similar. Likewise, problem gambling rates according to the DSM-IV and the PGSI individually did not vary statistically between surveys, meaning that they were relatively similar” (p.130).

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Problem gambling in Great Britain: A brief review. London: Association of British Bookmakers.

Orford, J., Wardle, H., Griffiths, M.D., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2010). PGSI and DSM-IV in the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey: Reliability, item response, factor structure and inter-scale agreement. International Gambling Studies, 10, 31-44.

Seabury, C. & Wardle, H. (2014). Gambling behaviour in England and Scotland. Birmingham: Gambling Commission.

Wardle, H. (2013). Gambling Behaviour. In Rutherford, L., Hinchliffe S., Sharp, C. (Eds.), The Scottish Health Survey: Vol 1: Main report. Edinburgh.

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.

Wardle, H., & Seabury, C. (2013). Gambling Behaviour. In Craig, R., Mindell, J. (Eds.) Health Survey for England 2012 [Vol 1]. Health, social care and lifestyles. Leeds: Health and Social Care Information Centre.

Wardle, H., Seabury, C., Ahmed, H., Payne, C., Byron, C., Corbett, J. & Sutton, R. (2014). Gambling behaviour in England and Scotland: Findings from the Health Survey for England 2012 and Scottish Health Survey 2012. London: NatCen.

Wardle, H., Sproston, K., Orford, J., Erens, B., Griffiths, M. D., Constantine, R., & Pigott, S. (2007). The British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007. London: National Centre for Social Research.

Wardle, H., Sutton, R., Philo, D., Hussey, D. & Nass, L. (2013). Examining Machine Gambling in the British Gambling Prevalence Survey. Report by NatCen to the Gambling Commission, Birmingham.

Net calls: Is online gambling regulation a help or hindrance?

Online gambling regulation is a hot topic and many online gambling operators are wondering what the effect of increased (and arguably stricter) legislative measures will have on the online gambling market. Based on the 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 gaming. 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.

Net advantage: Another brief look at the psychology of online poker

From everything that I’ve observed over the last decade in the gambling world, the one thing that has caught my eye more than anything else is the number of online gambling stories – particularly about the rise of online poker. Clearly, online poker and traditional poker are not synonymous. As I outlined in one of my previous blogs, a very useful psychological tool in poker is to ‘read’ a player through their body language and their verbalisations. When playing online poker, a gambler is denied this advantage. Poker players must therefore seek to manipulate their poker-playing opponents by using the psychological tools at their disposal. One of my colleagues who has researched this area (Dr. Adrian Parke), believes that in a ‘SunTzu’-type way, an online poker player must take their weakness (in this case, not being able to physically see other players) and turn it into a positive strength. Put simply, a player must use the non-transparency inherent in the situation to their advantage.

Online poker permits players to create a false identity. As a player you could portray the façade of being a young attractive novice female player when in fact you are actually a very experienced recognised pro. On a psychological level, the key to a ‘hustle’ or manipulating other players in poker is by projecting a character and hiding your identity. Essentially it is about representing a façade, whether it is for one hand or the whole of the game. While playing poker online, a player can adapt any ‘character’ they wish to suit any game in which they engage in. For instance, if you are playing with novices it may be profitable to portray an experienced professional in order to intimidate players into submission.

Using the messaging systems provided, it is easier for online poker players to develop their persona(s). The tone and pitch of what a player “says” is not revealed in the text on the screen. At a fundamental level all players are acting with their most unemotional ‘poker face’. In these situations, players can exude confidence as they go all in on a psychological bluff, when in reality they may have shaking hands and be sweating like a pig. The key to winning on a psychological level is by inducing emotional reactions from other players, so with knowledge of the opponent, it is possible to ‘tailor’ interactions to induce the desired response.

Social interaction at the online poker table is not confined to adversarial chastising. It is also possible to develop amiable relationships between players. Online poker – particularly at low stakes tables – is often more about entertainment than making profits. In poker it is not necessary to reveal your hand if nobody calls (i.e., pays to see it). Without seeing cards it is more difficult to understand player behaviour. However, at more sociable tables, players will reveal what they had to opposing players, if nothing else but to indulge the observers. Creating false ‘alliances’ is a way of ascertaining more information about your opponents and improving your ability to ‘read’ them.

From a psychological perspective, there are also some things to be aware of in the online gambling world. At a basic level, what separates professional gamblers and novice (or problem) gamblers is the factor of self-control. The rule of thumb is to avoid becoming emotionally involved in the game. Inducing emotional rather than logical reactions from gamblers is what makes the gambling industry so profitable. By remaining unemotional gamblers can protect themselves from recklessly chasing losses and avoid going on ‘tilt’. People gambling online are particularly at risk from engaging in chasing losses for the simple reason that they have 24-hour convenient access from their home or workplace and have the potential to be constantly subjected to temptation. What’s more, in this asocial world, they often lack friends acting as a “social safety net” to give objective appraisals of the player’s behaviour.

The best ways of avoiding becoming emotionally engaged online is to have (i) reflective time outs and (ii) an objective attribution of outcomes. Having reflective time-outs simply refers to playing slowly, making gambling decisions with accrued knowledge (for example, knowledge of probability and of opponents). It is advisable after a ‘bad beat’ to be disciplined enough sit out one or two hands to regain composure before playing again. Determining objective attributions of outcomes occurs at a psychological level and concerns the gambler’s locus of control. For the gambler, this means having an external locus of control when assessing the cards they have and an internal locus of control regarding what they do with the cards available.

The mantra of poker players is that ‘You can only play the hand you were dealt’. All players will experience streaks of both desirable and poor hands, and it is how a player responds to these streaks that will determine their success. It is very easy to become frustrated while in a negative streak. Likewise, it is easy in a positive streak to become narcissistic and complacent. It is the knowledgeable player that understands probability and who realises that over a continuous playing period, positive and negative streaks are inevitable and transient.

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

Further reading

Biolcati, R., Passini, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (2015). All-in and bad beat: Professional poker players and pathological gambling. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, in press.

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.

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. (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., & Parke, J. (2005) Can playing poker be good for you? Poker as a transferable skill. Journal of Gambling Issues, 14.

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. & Parke, J. (2007). The acquisition, development, and maintenance of online poker playing in a student sample. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 10, 354-361.

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.

Gamblers anonymous: The psychology of live online casino gambling

Over the last decade, my research unit has carried out an increasing amount of research into the psychology of online gambling. In some of our recent research interviewing online gamblers, offline gamblers and non-gamblers, we found that people who gambled online did so because of its (i) convenience, (ii) greater value for money, (iii) the greater variety of games, and (iv) anonymity. Perhaps more interestingly, were the inhibiting reasons that stopped people from wanting to gamble online in the first place. The main inhibiting reason that stopped people gambling online was that offline gamblers and non-gamblers said the authenticity of gambling was significantly reduced when gambling online. We also found a number of other inhibitors of online gambling including (i) the reduced realism, (ii) the asocial nature of the internet, (iii) the use of electronic money, and (iv) concerns about the safety of online gambling websites. The reduced authenticity and realism may help to explain why online live action casino games are seen as increasingly popular among some types of gamblers.

This empirical research also chimes with my own personal psychology of online gambling. One of the main reasons I don’t like gambling at Internet casinos is that I believe the majority of game outcome are likely to be pre-programmed and/or predetermined. To me, this is somewhat akin to playing with imaginary dice! Our empirical research findings also help explain the rise of live online casino gambling. Players not only want increased realism and authenticity, but still have the added advantages of online anonymity while playing.

In online live casino gaming, the anonymity of the Internet allows players to privately engage in gambling without the fear of stigma. This anonymity may also provide the gambler with a greater sense of perceived control over the content, tone, and nature of the online experience. Anonymity may also increase feelings of comfort since there is a decreased ability to look for, and thus detect, signs of insincerity, disapproval, or judgment in facial expression, as would be typical in face-to-face interactions. For activities such as gambling, this may be a positive benefit particularly when losing as no-one will actually see the face of the loser. Anonymity may reduce social barriers to engaging in gambling, particularly those activities thought to be more skill-based gambling activities (such as poker or blackjack) that are relatively complex and often possess tacit social etiquette. The potential discomfort of committing a structural or social faux-pas in the gambling environment because of inexperience is minimized because the player’s identity remains concealed.

Furthermore, one of the main reasons why behaviour online is very different from offline is because it provides a ‘disinhibiting’ experience. One of the main consequences of disinhibition is that on the internet people lower their emotional guard and become much less restricted and inhibited in their actions.

The increase in online live casino gambling has happened alongside the rise of online betting exchanges – the type of online gambling where it could be argued that skill can – to some extent – be exercised. For gamblers, having a punt on live sporting events via betting exchanges is a psychologically safer option because punters know (or can check) who won a particular football or horse race. The playing of live action casino games via the Internet shares some of the psychological similarities of online betting exchanges.

The rise of live online gambling has been coupled with increasingly sophisticated gaming software, integrated e-cash systems, and increased realism (in the shape of “real” gambling via webcams, live remote wagering, and/or player and dealer avatars). These are all inter-linked facilitating factors. Another factor that I feel is really important in the rise of online gambling (including online live action casino games) is the inter-gambler competition. Obviously there is an overlap between competitiveness and skill but they are certainly not the same. What’s more recent research has suggested that being highly competitive may not necessarily be good for the gambler. For instance, Professor Howard Shaffer, a psychologist at Harvard University, claims that men are more likely to develop problematic gambling behaviour because of their conventionally high levels of aggression, impulsivity and competitiveness. Clearly, the idea of the competitiveness of the activity being one of the primary motivations to gamble is well supported.

Based on the fact that so little research has systematically examined the links between gambling and competitiveness, our research unit did some research into this area. We speculated that a gambler who is highly competitive will experience more arousal and stimulation, and be drawn to gambling as an outlet to release competitive instincts and drives. This is likely to occur more in activities like online poker and online live action casino games. Our research did indeed show that problem gamblers were significantly more likely than non-problem gamblers to be competitive.

Being highly competitive may help in explaining why in the face of sometimes negative and damaging financial consequences, gamblers persist in their habit. Psychological research in other areas has consistently shown that highly competitive individuals are more sensitive to social comparison with peers regarding their task performance. Applying this to a gambling situation, it is reasonable to suggest that competitive gamblers may be reluctant to stop gambling until they are in a positive state in relation to opposing gamblers, perhaps explaining why excessive gambling can sometimes occur.

Sociologists have speculated that factors of the human instinctual expressive needs, such as competition, can be temporarily satisfied when engaging in gambling activities. Evidence exists supporting gambling as an instrumental outlet for expressing competitive instinctual urges. The US sociologist Erving Goffman developed what he called the ‘deprivation-compensation’ theory to explain the relationship between gambling and competitiveness. He suggested that the stability of modern society no longer creates situations where competitive instincts are tested. Therefore, gambling is an artificial, self-imposed situation of instability that can be instrumental in creating an opportunity to test competitive capabilities. Again, online live action casino gambling is another gambling form that can facilitate such instinctive needs.

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

Further reading

Goffman, I. (1972). Where the action is. In: Interaction Ritual (pp. 149–270). Allen Lane, London.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Gambling addiction on the Internet. In K. Young & C. Nabuco de Abreu (Eds.), Internet Addiction: A Handbook for Evaluation and Treatment. pp. 91-111. New York: Wiley.

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.

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.

Kuss, D. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012).  Internet gambling behavior. In Z. Yan (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Cyber Behavior (pp.735-753). Pennsylvania: IGI Global.

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. (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.

Wardle, H. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Defining the ‘online gambler’: The British perspective. World Online Gambling Law Report, 10(2), 12-13.

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.

The weighting game: Gambling with the nation’s health (revisited)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog on why problem gambling should be considered a health issue. Earlier this week, I came across an interesting study carried out by jackpot.co.uk who surveyed 2,131 online gamblers (58% males and 42% female) about their health. After the self-reported data had been collected, the gamblers were classed into one of nine categories based on the casino game type that the gambler played most often (i.e., slot machines, video poker, blackjack, roulette, dice/craps, baccarat, poker, pai gow, and ‘other’). The data were then tabulated so that all the health variables (including obesity) corresponded to the gambler’s preferred casino game.

I was interested in the findings not only because I am a Professor of Gambling Studies, but also because I was a member of the Department of Health’s Expert Working Group on Sedentary Behaviour, Screen Time and Obesity’ (a reference to our final report to the British government can be found in the ‘Further Reading’ section below). The study took an objective measurement of physical condition by asking each gambler their height (centimetres) and their weight (kilograms) to calculate each person’s Body Mass Index (BMI) by dividing the gamblers’ weight by height (metres) and dividing by height again (for example, someone who weighs 80kg and is 180cm tall, the BMI is 24.1 as this is 80/1.80)/1.80). The survey then asked s few general health and lifestyle questions (similar to ones that we have used in the last few British Gambling Prevalence Surveys:

  • Do you normally drink more than the recommended limit for weekly alcohol consumption (21 units of alcohol for men and 14 for women)? (Yes/No)
  • Do you smoke regularly? (Yes/No)
  • Do you normally engage in at least 30 minutes of physical activity, 5 times per week? (Yes/No)

Overall, the survey found that British casino gamblers as a group were no less healthy than the rest of the British population, with an average Body Mass index (BMI) of 27 (which is the same as the UK national average). However, the survey also reported that the average BMIs, health, and lifestyle choices (such as smoking cigarettes, engaging in exercise, and drinking alcohol varied considerably depending on the casino games that the respondents played. Here are some of the main findings:

  • Slots players were the least healthy. They took less exercise and had an average BMI of 31, pushing them into the category of obese (which is linked to increased chance of developing illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes and reduced life expectancy)
  • Roulette, blackjack, video poker and craps/dice players were not far behind slots players, each having BMI levels higher than the national average.
  • Those that played poker, baccarat and Pai Gow had an average BMI of 25 or under (well within the normal range recommended by the World Health Organisation.
  • Whilst drinking levels might be reasonably high among poker players, they were very exercise conscious, with 58% engaging in physical activity for at least 30 minutes, five times a week. For slots players the figure was 27% meeting this government recommended target.
  • Overall slots players drink the most, with 24.1% drinking over the recommended weekly limit. Poker players are not far behind on 23%. Female slots players were the biggest drinking subgroup, closely followed by male poker players.
  • Slots players also smoked more, with 24% being regular smokers (compared to the UK national average of 20%). Blackjack and roulette players smoked slightly more than average, on 21% and 22% respectively, while poker players smoked slightly less than average, on 19.5%.

None of these results is overly surprising as there are many studies (including my own) showing comorbidity between gambling and other potentially addictive behaviours. However, very few academic studies have ever looked at these health variables by game type. Although this was not an academic study, the results will likely be of interest to those in the gambling studies field.

The survey also examined the most common platform on which the gamblers played casino games. The most common was the desktop computer (65%), followed by mobiles and tablets (20%) and land-based casinos (14%). This is not surprising given the survey was completed by online gamblers. Interestingly, desktop use was linked to higher levels of obesity, drinking and smoking. This is something that I would expect given that online gambling is the most sedentary of these activities.

There are (of course) some limitations with the data collected particularly as it comprised a self-selected sample of online gamblers that played via jackpot.co.uk websites. We have no idea as to whether the sample is representative of all online gamblers but as I noted above, it is no surprise that online gamblers preferred playing casino games online compared to offline (i.e., land-based casinos). The data were also self-report and are therefore open to any number of individual biases including recall biases and social desirability biases. Also, we have no geographical breakdown of the sample as the internet (by definition) is global. However, the sample size is good in comparison to many published studies on gambling and the sample included individuals that were actually gamblers (as opposed to university undergraduates or members of the general public). According to Sam Marsden (editor of jackpot.co.uk and author of the report):

“There’s an undeniable link connecting passive games like slots and video poker to unhealthy, sedentary lifestyles. On the other hand, games that require concentration, strategy and some physical stamina like poker and blackjack seem to fare much better in the health stakes. It seems it’s less a case of ‘you are what you eat’ and more ‘you are what you play’.”  

Although such a conclusion could be argued to be PR spin on the findings, the results suggest that more rigorous studies could be carried out in the area including secondary analyses of the robust datasets that already exist including the British Gambling Prevalence Surveys, the English Health Surveys, and the Scottish health Surveys.

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

Further reading

Biddle, S., Cavill, N., Ekelund, U., Gorely, T., Griffiths, M.D., Jago, R., et al. (2010). Sedentary Behaviour and Obesity: Review of the Current Scientific Evidence. London: Department of Health/Department For Children, Schools and Families (126pp).

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Gambling – An emerging area of concern for health psychologists. Journal of Health Psychology, 6, 477-479.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Betting your life on it: Problem gambling has clear health related consequences. British Medical Journal, 329, 1055-1056.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Gambling Addiction and its Treatment Within the NHS. London: British Medical Association (ISBN 1-905545-11-8).

Griffiths, M.D., Wardle, J., Orford, J., Sproston, K. & Erens, B. (2010). Gambling, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking and health: findings from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. Addiction Research and Theory, 18, 208-223.

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.

Marsden, S. (2014). Booze, bets, and BMI. Jackpot.co.uk, October 6. Located at: http://www.jackpot.co.uk/online-casino-articles/booze-bets-bmi

Rigbye, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Problem gambling treatment within the British National Health Service. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 276-281.

Wardle, H., Griffiths, M.D., Orford, J., Moody, A. & Volberg, R. (2012). Gambling in Britain: A time of change? Health implications from the British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2010. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 273-277.

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.

Wardle, H., Seabury, C., Ahmed, H., Payne, C., Byron, C., Corbett, J. & Sutton, R. (2014). Gambling behaviour in England and Scotland: Findings from the Health Survey for England 2012 and Scottish Health Survey 2012. London: NatCen.

Wardle, H., Sproston, K., Orford, J., Erens, B., Griffiths, M. D., Constantine, R., & Pigott, S. (2007). The British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007. London: National Centre for Social Research.

The national wealth service: Problem gambling is a health issue

Over the last decade, the United Kingdom has undergone major changes of gambling legislation (most notably, the 2005 Gambling Act that came into force on September 1, 2007). The Gambling Act has provided the British public with increased opportunities and access to gambling like they have never seen before. Gambling legislation was revolutionized and many of the tight restrictions on gambling dating back to the 1968 Gaming Act were relaxed (particularly in relation to the advertising of gambling). The deregulation of gambling has also been coupled with the many new media in which people can gamble (internet gambling, mobile phone gambling, interactive television gambling, gambling via social networking sites). Given the expected explosion in gambling opportunities, is this something that the health and medical professions should be concerned about?

Gambling has not been traditionally viewed as a public health matter although research into the health, social and economic impacts of gambling has grown considerably since the 1990s. In August 1995, the British Medical Journal published an editorial called ‘Gambling with the nation’s health?’ which argued that gambling was a health issue because it widened the inequalities of income and that there was an association between inequality of income in industrialized countries and lower life expectancy. However, there are many other more specific reasons why gambling should be viewed as an issue for the medical profession.

According to the last British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) published in 2011, just under 1% of the British population have a severe gambling problem although the rate is approximately twice as high in adolescents, particularly as a result of problematic slot machine gambling. Disordered gambling is characterized by unrealistic optimism on the gambler’s part. All bets are made in an effort to recoup their losses. The result is that instead of “cutting their losses”, gamblers get deeper into debt pre-occupying themselves with gambling, determined that a big win will repay their loans and solve all their problems.

It is clear that the social and health costs of problem gambling can be large on both an individual and societal level. Personal costs can include irritability, extreme moodiness, problems with personal relationships (including divorce), absenteeism from work, family neglect, and bankruptcy. I have also reported in a number of my papers (including a 2007 report I wrote for the British Medical Association) that there can also be adverse health consequences for both the gambler and their partner including depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraines, and other stress-related disorders. In the UK, preliminary analysis of the calls to the national gambling helpline also indicated that a significant minority of the callers reported health-related consequences as a result of their problem gambling. These include depression, anxiety, stomach problems, other stress-related disorders and suicidal ideation.

There are also other issues relating to problem gambling that may have medical consequences. One US study published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine by Dr. Robert Muellman and his colleagues found that intimate partner violence (IPV) was predicted by pathological gambling in the perpetrator. In a sample of 286 women admitted to the emergency department at a University Hospital in Nebraska, findings revealed that a woman whose partner was a problem gambler was 10.5 times more likely to be a victim of IPV than partners of a non-problem gambler.

Health-related problems due to problem gambling can also result from withdrawal effects. In a study published in the American Journal of the Addictions, Dr. Richard Rosenthal and Dr. Henry Lesieur found that at least 65% of pathological gamblers reported at least one physical side-effect during withdrawal including insomnia, headaches, upset stomach, loss of appetite, physical weakness, heart racing, muscle aches, breathing difficulty and/or chills. Their results were also compared to the withdrawal effects from a substance-dependent control group. They concluded that pathological gamblers experienced more physical withdrawal effects when attempting to stop than the substance-dependent group. I also found similar things in a small study that I published in the Social Psychological Review (with Michael Smeaton).

Pathological gambling is very much the ‘hidden’ addiction. Unlike (say) alcoholism, there is no slurred speech and no stumbling into work. Furthermore, overt signs of problems often don’t occur until late in the pathological gambler’s career. If problem gambling is an addiction that can destroy families and have medical consequences, it becomes clear that medical professionals should be aware of the effects of gambling in just the same way that they are with other potentially addictive activities like drinking (alcohol) and smoking (nicotine).

However, gambling addiction is an activity that is not (at present) being treated via the British National Health Service (NHS). This was shown in a paper that I published with Dr. Jane Rigbye in a paper we published in a 2011 issue of the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction. We sent a total of 327 letters were sent to all Primary Care Trusts, Foundation Trusts and Mental Health Trusts in the UK requesting information about problem gambling service provision and past year treatment of gambling problems within their Trust under the Freedom of Information Act. Our findings showed that 97% of the NHS Trusts did not provide any service (specialist or otherwise) for treating those with gambling problems (i.e., only nine Trusts provided evidence of how they deal with problem gambling). Only one Trust offered dedicated specialist help for problem gambling. Our study showed there was some evidence that problem gamblers may get treatment via the NHS if that person has other co-morbid disorders as the primary referral problem.

Problem gambling is very much a health issue that needs to be taken seriously by all within the health and medical professions. General practitioners routinely ask patients about smoking and drinking but gambling is something that is not generally discussed. Problem gambling may be perceived as a somewhat ‘grey area’ in the field of health and it is therefore very easy to deny that those in the medical profession should be playing a role. If the main aim of practitioners is to ensure the health of their patients, then it is quite clear that an awareness of gambling and the issues surrounding it should be an important part of basic knowledge.

As briefly outlined above, opportunities to gamble and access to gambling have increased because of deregulation and technology. What has been demonstrated from research evidence in other countries is that – in general – where accessibility of gambling is increased there is an increase not only in the number of regular gamblers but also an increase in the number of problem gamblers – although this may not be proportional. This obviously means that not everyone is susceptible to developing gambling addictions but it does mean that at a societal (rather than individual) level, in general, the more gambling opportunities, the more problems. Other countries such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand have seen increases in problem gambling as a result of gambling liberalization. In the UK, the last BGPS showed that problem gambling in Great Britain had increased by 50% compared to the previous BGPS published in 2007. (However, the latest data from the combined Health Survey for England and the Scottish Health Survey in 2014 reported that problem gambling had fallen to about 0.5%).

Gambling is without doubt a health and issue and there is an urgent need to enhance awareness within the medical and health professions about gambling-related problems and to develop effective strategies to prevent and treat problem gambling. The rapid expansion of gambling represents a significant public health concern and health/medical practitioners also need to research into the impact of gambling on vulnerable, at-risk, and special populations. It is inevitable that a small minority of people will become casualties of gambling in the UK, and therefore help should be provided for the problem gamblers. Since gambling is here to stay and is effectively state-sponsored, the Government should consider giving priority funding (out of taxes raised from gambling revenue) to organizations and practitioners who provide advice, counselling and treatment for people with severe gambling problems.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Betting your life on it: Problem gambling has clear health related consequences. British Medical Journal, 329, 1055-1056.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Gambling Addiction and its Treatment Within the NHS. London: British Medical Association.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Adolescent gambling. In B. Bradford Brown & Mitch Prinstein (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence (Volume 3) (pp.11-20). San Diego: Academic Press.

Griffiths, M.D., Scarfe, A. & Bellringer, P. (1999). The UK National telephone Helpline – Results on the first year of operation. Journal of Gambling Studies, 15, 83-90.

McKee, M. & Sassi, F. (1995). Gambling with the nation’s health. British Medical Journal, 311, 521-522.

Muelleman, R. L., DenOtter, T., Wadman, M. C., Tran, T. P., & Anderson, J. (2002). Problem gambling in the partner of the emergency department patient as a risk factor for intimate partner violence. Journal of Emergency Medicine, 23, 307-312.

Rigbye, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Problem gambling treatment within the British National Health Service. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 9, 276-281.

Rosenthal, R. & Lesieur, H (1992). Self-reported withdrawal symptoms and pathological gambling. American Journal of the Addictions, 1, 150-154.

Setness, P.A. (1997). Pathological gambling: When do social issues become medical issues? Postgraduate Medicine, 102, 13-18.

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.

Wardle, H., Seabury, C., Ahmed, H., Payne, C., Byron, C., Corbett, J. & Sutton, R. (2014). Gambling behaviour in England and Scotland: Findings from the Health Survey for England 2012 and Scottish Health Survey 2012. London: NatCen.

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.

Trends reunited: How has gambling changed? (Part 2)

Most of the changes outlined in my previous blog were things that I predicted would happen in various papers that I wrote in the 1990s. However, there are many things that I did not predict would be areas of growing interest and change. The most interesting (to me at least) include (i) the rise of online poker and betting exchanges, (ii) gender swapping online and the rise of female Internet gambling, (iii) emergence of new type(s) of problem gambling, (iv) increase in use of behavioural tracking data, and (v) technological help for problem gamblers.

Online poker and betting exchanges: Two of the fastest growing forms of online gambling are in the areas of online poker and online betting exchanges. I have speculated there are three main reasons for the growth in these two particular sectors. Firstly, they provide excellent financial value for the gambler. There is no casino house edge or bookmakers’ mark-up on odds. Secondly, gamblers have the potential to win because there is an element of skill in making their bets. Thirdly, gamblers are able to compete directly with and against other gamblers instead of gambling on a pre-programmed slot machine or making a bet on a roulette wheel with fixed odds. However, one of the potential downsides to increased competition is recent research highlighting that problem gamblers are significantly more likely to be competitive when compared to non-problem gamblers. My research unit has also speculated other factors that have aided the popularity of online poker. These include (i) social acceptability of this type of gambling, (ii) promotion through televised tournaments often with celebrity players, (iii) 24/7 availability, (iv) the relative inexpensiveness of playing, and (v) the belief that this is predominantly a game of skill that can be mastered.

Gender swapping and the rise in female Internet gambling: One study by my research unitreported the phenomenon of gender swapping in online poker players. More female players (20%) in our study reported swapping gender when playing compared to males (12%). Typical reasons that female participants gave as to why they did this were that they believed other males would not take them so seriously if they knew they were playing against a woman. It also gave them a greater sense of security as a lone woman in a predominantly male arena. Males and females clearly had different motivations for gender swapping. For males it was a tactical move to give them a strategic advantage. For females it was more about acceptance or privacy in what they perceived to be a male dominated environment. Similar findings have been reported in relation to online computer game playing. In more general terms, the apparent rise in female Internet gambling is most likely because the Internet is a gender-neutral environment. The Internet is seen as less alienating and stigmatising medium when compared to male-dominated environments such as casinos and betting shops. The most obvious example is online bingo where online gaming companies have targeted females to get online, socialise, and gamble.

Emergence of new type(s) of problem gambling: The emergence of new technologies has brought with it new media in which to gamble. As noted above, the rise of online poker has been one of the success stories for the online gaming industry. This rise has also led to more research in this area including some that suggests a different way of viewing problem gambling. For instance, research has suggested that online poker may be producing a new type of problem gambler where the main negative consequence is loss of time (rather than loss of money). This research has identified a group of problem gamblers who (on the whole) win more money than they lose. However, they may be spending excessive amounts of time (e.g., 12 to 14 hours a day) to do this. This could have implications for problem gambling criteria in the future (i.e., there may be more criteria relating to the consequences of time conflicts as opposed to financial consequences).

Increase in use of behavioural tracking data: Over the past few years, innovative social responsibility tools that track player behaviour with the aim of preventing problem gambling have been developed including (e.g., mentor, PlayScan). These new tools are providing insights about problematic gambling behaviour that in turn may lead to new avenues for future research in the area. The companies who have developed these tools claim that they can detect problematic gambling behaviour through analysis of behavioural tracking data. If problem gambling can be detected online via observational tracking data, it suggests that there are identifiable behaviours associated with online problem gambling. Given that almost all of the current validated problem gambling screens diagnose problem gambling based on many of the consequences of problem gambling (e.g., compromising job, education, hobbies and/or relationship because of gambling; committing criminal acts to fund gambling behaviour; lying to family and friends about the extent of gambling, etc.), behavioural tracking data appears to suggest that problem gambling can be identified without the need to assess the negative psychosocial consequences of problem gambling.

Technological help for problem gamblers: Much of this article has discussed the potential downside of technological innovation. However, one area that was not predicted a decade ago is the use of technology in the prevention, intervention, and treatment of problem gambling. For instance, technology is now being used for health promotion using the Web, video games, and/or CD-ROMs. Internet gambling sites are beginning to feature links to relevant gambling awareness sites. For those sites that analyze their online behavioural tracking data, it may be the case that such data could be used to identify problem gamblers and help them rather than exploit them. Finally, help in the form of online therapy (such as online counselling) may be an option for some problem gamblers. For instance, an evaluation that we carried out of an online advice service for problem gamblers showed that clients were very positive about the service and that Internet gamblers were more likely to access the service than non- Internet gamblers.

Obviously the changes I have listed here are the ones that have been most important to me personally and have formed the backbone of my research. In writing these blogs, part of me finds it hard to believe that I am still actively researching in the gambling studies field and that there is always something new to learn and discover.

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, in press.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Gambling technologies: Prospects for problem gambling. Journal of Gambling Studies, 15, 265-283.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Internet gambling: Issues, concerns and recommendations. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6, 557-568.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Impact of gambling technologies in a multi-media world. Casino and Gaming International, 2(2), 15-18.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Interactive television quizzes as gambling: A cause for concern? Journal of Gambling Issues, 20, 269-276.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Internet gambling in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning, 21, 658-670.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Technological trends and the psychosocial impact on gambling. Casino and Gaming International, 7(1), 77-80.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Social gambling via Facebook: Further observations and concerns. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 104-106.

Griffiths, M.D. & Cooper, G. (2003). Online therapy: Implications for problem gamblers and clinicians. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 13, 113-135.

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.

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.

Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Problem Gaming in Europe: Challenges, Prevention, and Interventions. New York: Springer.

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.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Online guidance, advice, and support for problem gamblers and concerned relatives and friends: An evaluation of the Gam-Aid pilot service. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 35, 373-389.

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.

Trends reunited: How has gambling changed? (Part 1)

I was recently asked by the editor of the Society for the Study of Gambling Newsletter to write an article for the 50th anniversary issue. I used the opportunity to look back at what I believe to be the most major changes that I have witnessed in the gambling field since I started my research career in 1987. Obviously I was biased in my choice. Today’s blog looks at five things that I predicted would happen: (i) gambling coming out of gambling environments, (ii) the increased use of technology in gambling activities, (iii) gambling becoming a more asocial activity, (iv) the rise of remote gambling, (v) the changing nature of family entertainment, and (vi) increase in gambling and gaming convergence. Part 2 of this blog will looks at changes that I didn’t see coming at all!

Gambling coming out of gambling environments: I remember vividly when the UK National Lottery was introduced in November 1994. One of the hidden impacts since the introduction of the National Lottery was that this was a widespread act of gambling that had been taken out of the gambling environment on a national scale. Pre-National Lottery, legal gambling mainly took place in betting shops, casinos, amusement arcades, and bingo halls. Admittedly, there were exceptions including the football pools and fruit machines on single site premises. However, gambling can now be done in a wide variety of retail outlets. It is also clear that the newer forms of gambling (such as Internet gambling) are activities that are done almost exclusively from non-gambling environments – usually the home or the workplace.

The increased use of technology in gambling activities: Technology has always played a role in the development of gambling practices. I have argued in many of my papers that gaming is driven by technological advance and these new technologies may provide many people with their first exposure to the world of gambling. Furthermore, to some people they may be more enticing than previous non-technological incarnations. Technology is continuing to provide new market opportunities not only in the shape of Internet gambling but also in the shape of more technologically advanced slot machines and video lottery terminals, interactive television gambling, mobile phone gambling and gambling via social networking sites. In addition, other established gambling forms are becoming more technologically driven (e.g. bingo, keno).

Gambling becoming a more asocial activity: I have argued that one of the consequences of increased use of technology has been to reduce the fundamentally social nature of gambling to an activity that is essentially asocial (e.g. slot machine gambling, video poker, internet gambling, etc.). My research has shown that there are many different types of player based on their primary motivation for playing (e.g. to escape, to beat the machine, for social rewards, for excitement etc.). Those who experience problems are more likely to be those playing on their own (e.g. those playing to escape). An old 1988 study by the UK Home Officealso made the point that those people who played in groups often exerted social influence on problem gamblers in an effort to reduce the problems faced. Retrospectively, most problem gamblers report that at the height of their problem gambling, it is a solitary activity. Gambling in a social setting could potentially provide some kind of ‘safety net’ for over-spenders, i.e., a form of gambling where the primary orientation of gambling is for social reasons with the possibility of some fun and chance to win some money (e.g. bingo). However, I have speculated that those individuals whose prime motivation is to constantly play just to win money would possibly experience more problems. The shift from social to asocial forms of gambling shows no sign of abating. It could therefore be speculated that as gambling becomes more technological, gambling problems may increase due to its asocial nature.

Widespread deregulation and increased opportunities to gamble: Gambling deregulation is now firmly entrenched within Government policy not only in the UK but worldwide. The present situation of stimulating gambling in the UK appears to mirror the previous initiations of other socially condoned but potentially addictive behaviours like drinking (alcohol) and smoking (nicotine). As gambling laws become more relaxed and gambling becomes another product that can be more readily advertised (i.e. “stimulated”) it will lead to a natural increase in uptake of those services. This could lead to more people who experience gambling problems (although this may not be directly proportional) because of the proliferation of gaming establishments and relaxation of legislation. What has been clearly demonstrated from research evidence in other countries is that where accessibility of gambling is increased there is an increase not only in the number of regular gamblers but also an increase in the number of problem gamblers.

The rise of remote gambling:In my early 1990s writings on Internet gambling, my colleagues and I predicted Internet gambling would take off for several reasons. At a very basic level, we argued that gambling in these situations was easy to access as it comes into the home via computer and/or television. I also made the point that Internet gambling had the potential to offer visually exciting effects similar to a variety of electronic machines. Furthermore, virtual environments have the potential to provide short-term comfort, excitement and/or distraction for its users. However, I also argued that there were a number of other more important factors that make online activities like Internet gambling potentially attractive, seductive and/or addictive. Such factors include anonymity, convenience, escape, dissociation / immersion, accessibility, event frequency, interactivity, disinhibition, simulation, and asociability. There are many other specific developments that look likely to facilitate uptake of remote gambling services including (i) sophisticated gaming software, (ii) integrated e-cash systems (including multi-currency), (iii) multi-lingual sites, (iv) increased realism (e.g., “real” gambling via webcams, player and dealer avatars), (v) live remote wagering (for both gambling alone and gambling with others), (vi) improving customer care systems, and (vii) inter-gambler competition.

The changing nature of family entertainment:Back in 2000 I made some speculations about the increase in and development of home entertainment systems and how they would change the pattern of families’ leisure activities. I claimed the increase in and development of home entertainment systems would change the pattern of many families’ leisure activities. I said that the need to seek entertainment leisure outside the home would be greatly reduced as digital television and home cinema systems offer a multitude of interactive entertainment services and information. I claimed many families would adopt a leisure pattern known as “cocooning” where the family or individual concentrates their leisure time around in-house entertainment systems. Rather than going out, the entertainment comes to them direct via digital television and Internet services. Part of this entertainment for many families is online gambling and gaming (particularly, more recently, via social networking). Young people’s use of technology (the so called ‘screenagers’ and ‘digital natives’) has increased greatly over the last two decades and a significant proportion of daily time is spent in front of various screen interfaces most notably videogames, mobile phones (e.g., SMS) and the internet (e.g., social networking sites like Bebo, Facebook). These ‘digital natives’ have never known a world without the internet, mobile phones and interactive television, and are therefore tech-savvy, have no techno-phobia, and very trusting of these new technologies. I have argued that for many of these young people, their first gambling experiences may come not in a traditional offline environment but via the internet, mobile phone or interactive television.

Increase in gambling and gaming convergence: One very salient trend is that technology hardware is becoming increasingly convergent (e.g., cell phones with internet access) and there is increasing multi-media integration. As a consequence, people of all ages are spending more time interacting with technology in the form of Internet, videogames, interactive television, mobile phones, MP3 players, etc. In addition to convergent hardware, there is also convergent content. This includes some forms of gambling including video game elements, video games including gambling elements, online penny auctions that have gambling elements, and television programming with gambling-like elements. Recently, there has been debate as to whether some types of online games should be regarded as a form of gambling, in particular those games in which the player can win or lose points that can be transferred into real life currency. Part 2 to follow!

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

Further reading

Fisher, S. & Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Current trends in slot machine gambling: Research and policy issues. Journal of Gambling Studies, 11, 239-247.

Griffiths, M.D. (1989). Gambling in children and adolescents. Journal of Gambling Behavior, 5, 66-83.

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Gambling on the internet: A brief note. Journal of Gambling Studies, 12, 471-474.

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). The National Lottery and scratchcards: A psychological perspective. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 10, 23-26.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Gambling technologies: Prospects for problem gambling. Journal of Gambling Studies, 15, 265-283.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Gambling and Gaming Addictions in Adolescence. Leicester: British Psychological Society/Blackwells.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Internet gambling: Issues, concerns and recommendations. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 6, 557-568.

Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Impact of gambling technologies in a multi-media world. Casino and Gaming International, 2(2), 15-18.

Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Interactive television quizzes as gambling: A cause for concern? Journal of Gambling Issues, 20, 269-276.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Technological trends and the psychosocial impact on gambling. Casino and Gaming International, 7(1), 77-80.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Social gambling via Facebook: Further observations and concerns. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 104-106.

Griffiths, M.D. & Auer, M. (2013). The irrelevancy of game-type in the acquisition, development and maintenance of problem gambling. Frontiers in Psychology, 3, 621. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00621.

Griffiths, M.D. & Cooper, G. (2003). Online therapy: Implications for problem gamblers and clinicians. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 13, 113-135.

Griffiths, M.D. & Parke, J. (2002). The social impact of internet gambling. Social Science Computer Review, 20, 312-320.

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

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2000). Risk factors in adolescence: The case of gambling, video-game playing and the internet. Journal of Gambling Studies, 16, 199-225

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2001). The psychology of lottery gambling. International Gambling Studies, 1, 27-44.

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

Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Problem Gaming in Europe: Challenges, Prevention, and Interventions. New York: Springer.

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.

Net losses: Internet abuse and addiction in the workplace

The following article is a much extended version of an article that was originally published by The Conversation under the title ‘Tweets and cybersex: Workplace web use is a minefield’

A number of market research reports have indicated that many office employees in the UK spend at least one hour of their day at work on various non-work activities (e.g., booking holidays, shopping online, posting messages on social networking sites, playing online games, etc.) and costs businesses millions of pounds a year. These findings highlight that internet abuse is a serious cause for concern – particularly to employers. Furthermore, the long-term effects of internet abuse may have more far-reaching effects for the company that internet abusers work for than the individuals themselves. Abuse also suggests that there may not necessarily be any negative effects for the user other than a decrease in work productivity.

Back in the early 2000s (and using some of Kimberley Young’s work on types of internet addiction) I developed a typology of internet abusers. This included cybersexual Internet abuse, online friendship/relationship abuse, internet activity abuse, online information abuse, criminal internet abuse, and miscellaneous Internet abuse:

  • Cybersexual Internet abuse: This involves the abuse of adult websites for cybersex and cyberporn during work hours. Such behaviours include the reading of online pornographic magazines, the watching of pornographic videos and/or webcams, or the participating in online sexual discussion groups, forums or instant chat facilities
  • Online friendship/relationship abuse: This involves the conducting of an online friendship and/or relationship during work hours. Such a category could also include the use of e-mailing friends, posting messages to friends on social networking sites (e.g., on Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and/or engaging in discussion groups, as well as maintenance of online emotional relationships. Such people may also abuse the Internet by using it to explore gender and identity roles by swapping gender or creating other personas and forming online relationships or engaging in cybersex.
  • Internet activity abuse: This involves the use of the internet during work hours in which other non-work related activities are done (e.g., online gambling, online shopping, online travel booking, online video gaming in massively multiplier games, online day-trading, online casual gaming via social network sites, etc.). This appears to be one of the most common forms of Internet abuse in the workplace.
  • Online information abuse: This involves the abuse of internet search engines and databases (e.g., Googling online for hours, constantly checking Twitter account, etc.). Typically, this involves individuals who search for work-related information on databases etc. but who end up wasting hours of time with little relevant information gathered. This may be deliberate work-avoidance but may also be accidental and/or non-intentional. It may also involve people who seek out general educational information, information for self-help/diagnosis (including online therapy) and/or scientific research for non-work purposes.
  • Criminal Internet abuse: This involves the seeking out individuals who then become victims of sexually-related Internet crime (e.g., online sexual harassment, online trolling, cyberstalking, paedophilic “grooming” of children). The fact that these types of abuse involve criminal acts may have severe implications for employers.
  • Miscellaneous Internet abuse: This involves any activity not found in the above categories such as the digital manipulation of images on the Internet for entertainment and/or masturbatory purposes (e.g., creating celebrity fake photographs where heads of famous people are superimposed onto someone else’s naked body).

There are many factors that make Internet abuse in the workplace seductive. It is clear from research in the area of computer-mediated communication that virtual environments have the potential to provide short-term comfort, excitement, and/or distraction. These provide compelling reasons as to why employees may engage in non-work related internet use. There are also other reasons (opportunity, access, affordability, anonymity, convenience, escape, disinhibition, social acceptance, and longer working hours):

  • Opportunity and access: Obvious pre-cursors to potential Internet abuse includes both opportunity and access to the Internet. Clearly, the internet is now commonplace and widespread, and is almost integral to almost all office workplace environments. Given that prevalence of undesirable behaviours is strongly correlated with increased access to the activity, it is not surprising that the development of internet abuse appears to be increasing across the population. Research into other socially acceptable but potentially problematic behaviours (drinking alcohol, gambling etc.) has demonstrated that increased accessibility leads to increased uptake (i.e., regular use) and that this eventually leads to an increase in problems – although the increase may not be proportional.
  • Affordability: Given the wide accessibility of the internet, it is now becoming cheaper and cheaper to use the online services on offer. Furthermore, for almost all employees, Internet access is totally free of charge and the only costs will be time and the financial costs of some particular activities (e.g., online sexual services, online gambling etc.).
  • Anonymity: The anonymity of the Internet allows users to privately engage in their behaviours of choice in the belief that the fear of being caught by their employer is minimal. This anonymity may also provide the user with a greater sense of perceived control over the content, tone, and nature of their online experiences. The anonymity of the Internet often facilitates more honest and open communication with other users and can be an important factor in the development of online relationships that may begin in the workplace. Anonymity may also increase feelings of comfort since there is a decreased ability to look for, and thus detect, signs of insincerity, disapproval, or judgment in facial expression, as would be typical in face-to-face interactions.
  • Convenience: Interactive online applications such as e-mail, social media, chat rooms, online forums, or role-playing games provide convenient mediums to meet others without having to leave one’s work desk. Online abuse will usually occur in the familiar and comfortable environment of home or workplace thus reducing the feeling of risk and allowing even more adventurous behaviours.
  • Escape: For some, the primary reinforcement of particular kinds of internet abuse (e.g., to engage in an online affair and/or cybersex) is the sexual gratification they experience online. In the case of behaviours like cybersex and online gambling, the experiences online may be reinforced through a subjectively and/or objectively experienced ‘high’. The pursuit of mood-modifying experiences is characteristic of addictions. The mood-modifying experience has the potential to provide an emotional or mental escape and further serves to reinforce the behaviour. Abusive and/or excessive involvement in this escapist activity may lead to problems (e.g., online addictions). Online behaviour can provide a potent escape from the stresses and strains of real life. These activities fall on the continuum from life enhancing to pathological and addictive.
  • Disinhibition: Disinhibition is clearly one of the internet’s key appeals as there is little doubt that the Internet makes people less inhibited. Online users appear to open up more quickly online and reveal themselves emotionally much faster than in the offline world. What might take months or years in an offline relationship may only takes days or weeks online. As a number of researchers have pointed out, the perception of trust, intimacy and acceptance has the potential to encourage online users to use these relationships as a primary source of companionship and comfort.
  • Social acceptability:The social acceptability of online interaction is another factor to consider in this context. What is really interesting is how the perception of online activity has changed over the last 15 years (e.g., the ‘nerdish’ image of the Internet is almost obsolete). It may also be a sign of increased acceptance as young children and adolescents are exposed to technology earlier and so become used to socializing using computers as tools. For instance, laying the foundations for an online relationship in this way has become far more socially acceptable and will continue to be so. Most of these people are not societal misfits as is often claimed – they are simply using the technology as another tool in their social armory.
  • Longer working hours: All over the world, people are working longer hours and it is perhaps unsurprising that many of life’s activities can be performed from the workplace Internet. Take, for example, the case of a single individual looking for a relationship. For these people, the Internet at work may be ideal. Dating via the desktop may be a sensible option for workaholic professionals. It is effectively a whole new electronic “singles bar” which because of its text-based nature breaks down physical prejudices. For others, internet interaction takes away the social isolation that we can all sometimes feel. There are no boundaries of geography, class or nationality. It opens up a whole new sphere of relationship-forming.

Being able to spot someone who is an Internet abuser can be very difficult. However, there are some practical steps that employers can be taken to help minimize the potential problem.

  • Take the issue of internet abuse seriously. Internet abuse and addiction in all their varieties are only just being considered as potentially serious occupational issues. Managers, in conjunction with Personnel Departments need to ensure they are aware of the issues involved and the potential risks it can bring to both their employees and the whole organization. They also need to be aware that for employees who deal with finances, some forms of Internet abuse (e.g., Internet gambling), the consequences for the company can be very great.
  • Raise awareness of internet abuse issues at work. This can be done through e-mail circulation, leaflets, and posters on general notice boards. Some countries will have national and/or local agencies (e.g., technology councils, health and safety organizations etc.) that can supply useful educational literature (including posters). Telephone numbers for these organizations can usually be found in most telephone directories.
  • Ask employees to be vigilant. Internet abuse at work can have serious repercussions not only for the individual but also for those employees who befriend Internet abusers, and the organization itself. Fellow staff members need to know the basic signs and symptoms of Internet abuse. Employee behaviours such as continual use the Internet for non-work purposes might be indicative of an Internet abuse problem.
  • Monitor internet use of staff that may be having problems. Those staff members with an internet-related problem are likely to spend great amounts of time engaged in non-work activities on the Internet. Should an employer suspect such a person, they should get the company’s I.T. specialists to look at their Internet surfing history as the computer’s hard disc will have information about everything they have ever accessed.
  • Check internet “bookmarks” of staff. In some jurisdictions across the world, employers can legally access the e-mails and Internet content of their employees. One of the simplest checks is to simply look at an employee’s list of “bookmarked” websites. If they are spending a lot of employment time engaged in non-work activities, many bookmarks will be completely non-work related (e.g., online dating agencies, gambling sites).
  • Develop an “Internet Abuse At Work” policy. Many organizations have policies for behaviours such as smoking or drinking alcohol. Employers should develop their own internet abuse policies via liaison between Personnel Services and local technology councils and/or health and safety executives.
  • Give support to identified problem users. Most large organizations have counselling services and other forms of support for employees who find themselves in difficulties. In some (but not all) situations, problems associated with internet use need to be treated sympathetically (and like other more bona fide problems such as alcoholism). Employee support services must also be educated about the potential problems of internet abuse in the workplace.

Internet abuse can clearly be a hidden activity and the growing availability of internet facilities in the workplace is making it easier for abuse to occur in lots of different forms. Thankfully, it would appear that for most people internet abuse is not a serious individual problem although for large companies, small levels of internet abuse multiplied across the workforce raises serious issues about work productivity. For those whose internet abuse starts to become more of a problem, it can affect many levels including the individual, their work colleagues, and the organization itself.

Managers clearly need to have their awareness of this issue raised, and once this has happened, they need to raise awareness of the issue among the work force. Furthermore, employers need to let employees know exactly which behaviours on the Internet are reasonable (e.g., the occasional e-mail to a friend) and those that are unacceptable (e.g., online gaming, cybersex etc.). Internet abuse has the potential to be a social issue, a health issue and an occupational issue and needs to be taken seriously by all those employers who utilize the Internet in their day-to-day business.

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

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1995). Technological addictions. Clinical Psychology Forum, 76, 14-19.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Internet gambling in the workplace. In M. Anandarajan & C. Simmers (Eds.). Managing Web Usage in the Workplace: A Social, Ethical and Legal Perspective (pp. 148-167). Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing.

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Occupational health issues concerning Internet use in the workplace. Work and Stress, 16, 283-287.

Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Internet abuse in the workplace – Issues and concerns for employers and employment counselors. Journal of Employment Counseling, 40, 87-96.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Internet abuse and addiction in the workplace – Issues and concerns for employers. In M. Anandarajan (Eds.). Personal Web Usage in the Workplace: A Guide to Effective Human Resource Management (pp. 230-245).Hershey, Pennsylvania: Idea Publishing.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Internet gambling in the workplace. Journal of Workplace Learning, 21, 658-670.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Internet abuse and internet addiction in the workplace. Journal of Worplace Learning, 7, 463-472.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The hidden addiction: Gambling in the workplace. Counselling at Work, 70, 20-23.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.

Griffiths, M.D., Kuss, D.J. & Demetrovics, Z. (2014). Social networking addiction: An overview of preliminary findings. In K. Rosenberg & L. Feder (Eds.), Behavioral Addictions: Criteria, Evidence and Treatment (pp.119-141). New York: Elsevier.

Kuss, D.J., Griffiths, M.D., Karila, L. & Billieux, J. (2014).  Internet addiction: A systematic review of epidemiological research for the last decade. Current Pharmaceutical Design, in press.

Widyanto, L. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Internet addiction: Does it really exist? (Revisited). In J. Gackenbach (Ed.), Psychology and the Internet: Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Transpersonal Applications (2nd Edition), (pp.141-163). New York: Academic Press.

Young K. (1999). Internet addiction: Evaluation and treatment. Student British Medical Journal, 7, 351-352.