The psychology of the online casino gambler

Professor Mark Griffiths of the International Gaming Research Unit at Nottingham Trent University, reports on his research into the psychology of the online casino gambler, which details a number of interesting observations on the differences between online and offline behaviour including a notable finding in the field of problem gambling.

THERE IS STILL comparatively little research into online gambling and more specifically online casino gamrimg. Back in 2007, my International Gaming Research Unit carried out a piece of research led by Dr Jonathan Parke for e-Commerce and Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance (eCOGRA) on nearly 11.000 online gamblers from 96 different countries. Some of the results were very surprising. For instance, the survey reported that the 'typical' online casino player was more likely to be female (55 percent) aged 46 to 55 years of age (30 percent), gambled at online casinos two to three times a week (37 percent), played one to two hours per session (27 percent) and have been gambling at online casinos for two to three years.

Females gambled more frequently and for longer periods of time, but spent lower amounts of money than males. Males gambled for shorter, less frequent periods of time but played at higher stake levels compared to females. The main motivational reasons for gambling at an online casino were for excitement, for relaxation, to win money, to escape, and to socialise. The biggest predictor of financial success for online casino gamblers was avoiding the temptation to chase losses. However, these results may have been a result of the self-selected sampling methods used (for instance, research has shown that, in general, women are more likely than men to fill out surveys).

Research such as the eCOGRA study suggests that differentiating online casino gamblers from (say) online poker players is relatively easy and that there are discrete types of online gambler. However, this isn't necessarily the case. Earlier this year, I (along with Heather Wardle who led the research for the latest British Gambling Prevalence Survey) published an article examining what an online gambler actually is. Sow given that anyone reading this is likely to have more than a passing interest in online gambling, this question may appear somewhat strange and or self-evident. In fact, many of you reading this may have already reached the conclusion that it is obvious what an online casino gambler is (i.e., someone who gambles at (at least) one online casino). However, those of us who carry out research into online gambling have to be very specific and operationally define what we mean by an 'online casino gambler' in every piece of research that we carry out. For instance, is it right to call someone who gambles a few times a year at an online casino but also gambles on slot machines every week at an amusement arcade an 'online casino gambler'?

Most of the published research talks about online gamblers as if everyone is totally clear as to what is being referred to when findings are reported. Many of the published research studies in the area (including many of my own) have compared online gamblers and 'offline gamblers'. For instance, in our secondary analyses of the British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) 2007 data, online gamblers were simply defined as anyone who had gambled online (e.g., gambled at an online casino, used an online betting exchange, had made a bet online, etc) but excluded those who had bought online lottery tickets. Our research reported that the problem gambling prevalence rate amongst those who had gambled online was five percent compared to 0.5 percent for those who had never gambled online. This led to the conclusion that either gambling in an online medium is more 'dangerous' and/or problem inducing for gamblers than land-based gambling, and/or that vulnerable gamblers may be more susceptible to developing problems online because of factors such as 24/7 access and convenience.

One of the main problems with this is that, typically, online gamblers also gamble offline. In the 2007 BGPS, of the 9,003 participants, a small minority (476 people) reported gambling online in the past year. Of these, only nine people didn't take part in any other kind of 'offline' gambling activity. In other words, the vast majority of online gamblers (98 percent) also gambled offline. This data suggests that in Britain, online-only gambling is a low prevalence activity (i.e. five percent of BGPS respondents had gambled online in the last year but only 0.1 percent had only gambled online in the past year).

According to the latest BGPS published in February 2011, the number of online-only gamblers had slightly increased to two percent but our data suggests there are a number of distinct ways to categorise gamblers based on the medium in which they gamble and what activities they gamble on in those mediums. Later this year, we will be publishing our secondary analysis of the online gambling data from the latest BGPS. The 2011 BGPS report surveyed 7,756 adult gamblers. Approximately one in seven respondents (14 percent) had gambled online in the past year (i.e., had gambled on at least one gambling activity such as at online casinos and/or playing the lottery online). However, for the first time ever, we created four new groups of gamblers for comparison. These were those that:

• Gambled offline-only (i.e., had gambled on at least one activity such as buying a lottery ticket in a shop or playing roulette at an offline casino but hadn't gambled online in the past year)
• Gambled online-only (i.e., had gambled on at least one activity such as a betting exchange or an online casino but hadn't gambled offline in the past year)
• Gambled both online and offline but on different activities (such as gambling on a slot machine in an amusement arcade and playing blackjack in an online casino)
• Gambled both online and offline but on the same activities (such as gambling at both an online and offline casino)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, of all gamblers, the largest group were those who only gambled offline (80.5 percent) and the smallest group were those who only gambled online (2.1 percent). Of far more interest were the rates of problem gambling among these four groups. The highest prevalence rates of problem gambling were amongst mixed mode gamblers who gambled on different activities (4.3 percent), followed by mixed mode gamblers who gambled on the same activities (2.4 percent), those who only gambled offline (0.9 percent), and those who only gambled online (c percent) [see Table 1].

The most interesting statistic is arguably :r_e :ac: that :uere wasn't a single case of problem or pathological gambling among those gamblers who only gambled online. However, extreme caution must be given as the player base for online-only gamblers is very small when compared to the other groups. Yet, this certainly opens up an area for future research as to whether those who only gamble online are more resilient to developing gambling problems than those who engage in mixed modes of gambling. Socio-demographic information from the BGPS studies suggest that those who gamble online are more educated and in better occupations than those who have never gambled online. Maybe, these demographic factors are also protective factors when it comes to the development of gambling problems?

The more refined analysis that we have carried out using the latest BGPS data demonstrates that direct comparisons between online and land-based gamblers typically ignores the more complex nature of how people gamble in and across different media and gambling activities. However, our secondary analysis aimed to demonstrate that these very basic distinctions, using the mode and type of gambling as the primary discriminators, produces a wide range of gambling sub¬types for future analysis and demonstrates that the concept of 'online gambler' - including the 'online casino gambler' -isn't homogenous.

At present, policy decisions surrounding online gambling - particularly in relation to problem gambling - are often made by conceptualising online gambling as a single entity. Our research findings based on just a few basic variables including the medium in which people gamble, the type and number of activities engaged in, and the regularity with which people gamble, produces a complex picture of online gambling and demonstrates its heterogeneity.
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