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Learning, yearning, but not earning: A brief look at student gambling

Last week, the UK Gambling Commission put out a press release relating to student gambling. Having been in the university sector for as long as I have been researching gambling (i.e., 30 years), student gambling is an area that has always been close to my professional heart. I have published dozens of papers on youth gambling and student gambling over the last three decades (see ‘Further reading’ below for a few examples).

With my daughter leaving home to go to university this week there are lots I could potentially worry about and gambling isn’t necessarily my main concern where my daughter is concerned, but gambling is still of concern to me especially because a study I published back in 2012 with Luke Benson and Dr. Christine Norman (in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction) found that first year university students gambled more than final year students and were more susceptible to problem gambling compared to final year students.

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The Gambling Commission have just published their own research into the topic. They hired Youth Sight who conducted 1,000 online interviews with undergraduate students in August 2017 (the students were part of an online panel recruited from applicants through Universities and Colleges Admission Service). The quotas chosen reflected the UK student population in terms of gender, course year and university group. Here are some of their key findings:

  • Two-thirds of students had gambled in the previous month
  • Over half of student gamblers (54%) engaged in gambling to make money
  • Two-fifths of students said they felt guilty after they had gambled
  • One in eight student gamblers had missed lectures due to gambling
  • One in four student gamblers (25%) had spent more money gambling than they could afford
  • One in 25 student gamblers (4%) were in debt because of their gambling
  • One in four students that had a gambling debt, had a debt of over £10,000

The Gambling Commission noted there were are number of limitations with the study. They specifically noted that gambling participation rates may have been higher than if the data had been collected using other methodologies (telephone, face-to-face interviews) due to the self-selecting nature of online surveys. However, online surveys were chosen due to students’ access to technology and the availability of a representative panel via this method. 

On the back of their survey, the Gambling Commission also provided their top ten tips to help students avoid getting into trouble with gambling. I have reproduced them here verbatim.

  • Ask yourself why you are gambling: Are you gambling to escape debt or as a way to make quick money? Think carefully about your motivations to gamble. Gambling shouldn’t be seen as the answer to improving your personal finances. If you have concerns about money, speak to a financial adviser or student support services.
  • Monitor how often you’re gambling online: Websites must give you access to historic account activity. This means you can see exactly when, how much and what you’ve been gambling on over time and make well-informed choices about what to do next.
  • Keep track of how much time you’ve spent gambling: With a reality check, you can set alerts to pop up on screen, which help you to monitor the time spent gambling either online or on gaming machines in a betting shop.
  • Limit how much you can spend: If you’re concerned about how much money you’re gambling, you can set a limit on how much you spend across individual gambling products online. You can also set a limit on how much you spend on gaming machines in a betting shop.
  • Give yourself a timeout: During a timeout, you can block yourself from gambling online for a set amount of time, of up to 6 weeks, and even bar yourself from gambling during a specific time of day.
  • Need a longer break? Self-exclude from gambling firms for a minimum of 6 months: If you think you are spending too much time or money gambling – whether online or in gambling premises – you can ask to be self-excluded. This is when you ask the company to stop you from gambling with them for a period of time. The exclusion will last for a minimum of least six months. Self-exclusion can be used if you think you have a problem with gambling and want help to stop. [The Gambling Commission] are also working with industry representatives to develop a national online self-exclusion scheme.
  • Read the terms and conditions: Did you know almost 80% of gamblers haven’t read the terms and conditions on the websites they are gambling on? By taking the time to read the T&Cs, you can ensure you understand exactly what you are gambling on, and what restrictions are attached to promotions and bonus offers (such as a minimum spend level before the bonus is paid) – this will help you make an informed decision.
  • Make sure the website you’re gambling with is licensed: Make sure you’re gambling with a Gambling Commission licensed business. This means you’ll be protected by gambling and consumer protection rules in Great Britain. Licensed gambling businesses must display that they are licensed and provide a link to our licence register where you can see what type of activities they are allowed to offer and also if we have taken any regulatory action against them.
  • Check how your money is protected: Any gambling business that holds customer funds must explain in their T&Cs how customer funds are protected if the business goes bust – this should help you decide who you want to gamble with.
  • Feel it’s getting too much? Talk to someone: There are a number of gambling support groups available if you feel your gambling is getting out of control or too much. More information about the signs of problem gambling can be found on the Gambleaware and Gamcare websites [You can call the National Gambling Helpline on Freephone 0808 8020 133]. They also provide general information about gambling, including how to gamble safely and where to get help if you or someone you know has problems with their gambling.

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

Further reading

Benson, L., Norman, C. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The role of impulsivity, sensation seeking, coping, and year of study in student gambling: A pilot study. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 10, 461-473.

Canale, N., Griffiths, M.D., Vieno, A., Siciliano, V. & Molinaro, S. (2016). Impact of internet gambling on problem gambling among adolescents in Italy: Findings from a large-scale nationally representative survey. Computers in Human Behavior, 57, 99-106.

Canale, N., Vieno, A., Lenzi, M., Griffiths, M.D., Borraccino, A., Lazzeri, G., Lemma, P., Scacchi, L., Santinello, M. (2017). Income inequality and adolescent gambling severity: Findings from a large-scale Italian representative survey. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1318. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01318

Gambling Commision (2017). Commission raises awareness of potential risks for students who gamble. September 12. Located at: http://www.gamblingcommission.gov.uk/news-action-and-statistics/news/2017/Commission-raises-awareness-of-potential-risks-for-students-who-gamble.aspx

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2002). Adolescent gambling: What should teachers and parents know? Education and Health, 20, 31-35.

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2008). Adolescent gambling in Great Britain. Education Today: Quarterly Journal of the College of Teachers. 58(1), 7-11.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Adolescent gambling via social networking sites: A brief overview. Education and Health, 31, 84-87.

Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Adolescent gambling and gambling-type games on social networking sites: Issues, concerns, and recommendations. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 33(2), 31-37.

Griffiths, M.D. & Calado, F. (2017). Adolescent gambling. Reference Module in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Psychology (pp. 1-12). Oxford: Elsevier.

Griffiths, M.D. & Linsey, A. (2006). Adolescent gambling: Still a cause for concern? Education and Health, 24, 9-11.

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

Leisure pleasure treasure: A brief look at gambling within videogames

Over the last decade, gambling and gaming technologies have begun to converge with video games featuring gambling-like elements, and gambling games featuring video gaming-like elements. Many of the newer convergent gambling-gaming convergent forms include such activities as online penny auctions and gambling-type activities on social networking sites, so-called ‘social gaming’. With regard to video gaming including gambling-like elements, a paper that I co-wrote in 2012 with Dr. Daniel King in the journal International Gambling Studies noted that simulated gambling activities and gambling themes have a substantial presence in many modern video games. We noted that gambling content in video games can be categorized according to the following three categories:

  • Standard gambling simulation, a digitally simulated interactive gambling activity that is structurally identical to the standard format of an established gambling activity, such as blackjack or roulette;
  • Non-standard gambling simulation, an interactive gambling activity that involves the intentional wagering of in-game credits or other items on an uncertain outcome, in an activity that may be partially modelled on a standard gambling activity but which contains distinct player rules or other structural components that differ from established gambling games;
  • Gambling references, the appearance of non-interactive gambling material or gambling-related paraphernalia/materials within the context of the video game.

In regard to the second of these categories, it could be argued that some online video games feature mini-games that are non-standard gambling simulations. For instance, in February 2014, the mini-game Treasure Hunter (TH) was introduced into the online video game Runescape. To get in-game prizes, players have to get keys to open chests. Originally, to participate in TH, players had to play in a members’ world. Players that tried to play TH in a free world are given the message: “As a member, you are eligible for improved prizes, so please play Treasure Hunter on a members’ world instead.” However, in April 2014, TH was reformulated and for the first time, members’ prizes could be claimed by those playing in a free world also.

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In TH, five chests can be opened, each containing one of five different gems (going from most common to least common – white, yellow, orange, red, or purple gem – with white being the most common and purple being the rarest). After obtaining a key, players select a chest (not knowing what gem is inside the chest), and open it. The player is then given the option of storing the prize in the bank, discarding the prize, collecting the prize later, or cashing out for a small number of coins. There are a number of different ways to gain TH keys (free daily keys, keys obtained through skilful gameplay, and buying keys). Members get two free keys a day and those playing in free worlds only get one free key a day. Those players paying to be in the silver or gold Premier Club get three free keys a day.

It should also be noted that (i) TH is reset every night at midnight, (ii) free keys have to be used on the day, (iii) one monthly free key can be earned by playing ‘Troll Invasion’, (iv) players can buy bonds for gold coins or money, and (v) a random number generator is used to determine the winners. After completing any daily challenge, players receive an extra key, and after completing any in-game quest, players receive two additional keys. Keys can be bought in bundles of 15 (€3.99), 35 (€8.00), 75 (€16.00), 200 (€39.99) or 450 keys (€79.99). The maximum number of keys that could be bought is $200 (US) a day and $500 (US) a week. Keys can also be earned by watching advertisements, buying products, and completing surveys (and accessed via the ‘Earn keys’ option). TH prizes include in-game skilling items, weapons, bonus experience stars, etc. or can be converted to coins.

The legal definition of gambling in Great Britain is contained in the Gambling Act 2005. It notes that gambling includes “gaming”, “betting” or “participating in lottery”. Gaming is defined in the 2005 Act as “playing a game of a chance for a prize” while betting involves the process of placing or accepting a bet on anything other than financial services that remains uncertain to at least one party of the transaction at the time of the bet. By this definition alone, it would appear that Treasure Hunter is a form of gambling if purchases to participate are made (rather than being given free spins or keys, or earning them through skilful gameplay).

In 2015, the UK Gambling Commission highlighted that they believe the mini-games within Runescape to be ‘social gaming’ and not a game of chance and therefore out of their jurisdiction in relation to the regulation of the game. They have also claim that RuneScape bonds have no intrinsic value outside of Runescape under the terms of the British Gambling Act and therefore is not gambling. The Gambling Commission also note on their website that:

“We are not saying there are no risks in social gaming, nor are we saying that this ends our interest in the issue. We are simply saying that our current assessment of the available evidence is that there is no persuasive reason for us to take regulatory action, in effect to change from maintaining a watching brief. We will continue to monitor emerging evidence, and we are prepared to change this position if the evidence warrants it”.

However, there are instances when the bonds and prizes won do have value outside of the game. Bonds that are purchased with real life currency can be sold to another player for an in-game sum of money. Bonds and prizes can also be redeemed within the game for real-life services. These services are not just limited to the buying of game-related merchandise, such as the buying of card games like Top Trumps, but also includes attendance at offline RuneScape events, such as RuneFest, hotel rooms, and even plane tickets. The bonds can also be used to pay for postage and packing of items bought outside the game. Players can also donate the bonds to charity (in which Jagex contributes the full value of the bond to the charity chosen by the player). These examples clearly demonstrate that the bonds do have specific financial value outside the game in some circumstances, and an impact on real-world activities. More specifically, they demonstrate that the financial value of the bonds and prizes can be used outside the game itself.

Mini-games like Treasure Hunter within the online game RuneScape are not uncommon and are another example of convergence between gambling and video gaming. These games appear to meet the criteria for gambling found in the gambling studies literature and should be regulated as such.

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

Further reading

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

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

Griffiths, M.D. (2015). Adolescent gambling and gambling-type games on social networking sites: Issues, concerns, and recommendations. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport, 33(2), 31-37.

Griffiths, M.D. & Carran, M. (2015). Are online penny auctions a form of gambling? Gaming Law Review and Economics, 19, 190-196.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Delfabbro, P.H. (2009). Adolescent gambling-like experiences: Are they a cause for concern? Education and Health, 27, 27-30.

Griffiths, M.D., King, D.L. & Delfabbro, P.H. (2014). The technological convergence of gambling and gaming practices. In Richard, D.C.S., Blaszczynski, A. & Nower, L. (Eds.). The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Disordered Gambling (pp. 327-346). Chichester: Wiley.

Griffiths, M.D. & King, R. (2015). Are mini-games within RuneScape gambling or gaming? Gaming Law Review and Economics, 19, 64-643.

King, D.L., Delfabbro, P.H., Derevensky, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2012). A review of Australian classification practices for commercial video games featuring simulated gambling. International Gambling Studies, 12, 231-242.