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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.

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.