perceptions of gambling may influence whether people play particular types of game in the first place

Perceptions and attitudes of what people think about gambling have often been dismissed by academics as being too subjective to be of any value in generating a reliable knowledge base about its place within the leisure industry. However, perceptions of gambling may influence whether people play particular types of game in the first place. Many types of gambling such as sportsbetting, slot machines, and bingo are an established part of the British high street, but bingo appears to have significantly less stigma attached to it than most other forms of gambling. So what implications do people’s attitudes towards offline bingo have for online bingo operators and affiliates? This article briefly looks at some of the evidence and trends.

CONSTANCE CHAPPLE, A sociologist at the University of Nebraska says, “Although gambling has largely maintained its deviant reputation, bingo, as a form of gambling, remains untainted by labels of deviance.”

She strongly argues that society has socially constructed bingo as an acceptable form of gambling that escapes the negative connotations attached to games played at the casino. This has been backed up by the most recent empirical research. For instance, in the latest British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS) published earlier this year, we reported that those surveyed did not think that either the National Lottery or bingo were gambling activities. Furthermore, they did not want to answer questions about these activities when they were phrased using the word ‘gambling’.

Bingo’s reputation as a popular gambling activity appears to stem from its perception as a social activity that, in the past, was mainly played by older aged women.

The stigma associated with other forms of gambling just doesn’t seem to be apparent with bingo and this may be of great help to online bingo operators in getting people to play the game online.

There may also be other reasons for the decreasing stigma around gambling activity. For instance, I have argued in a number of my research papers that the introduction of the British National Lottery back in 1994 had two major effects. Firstly, it made gambling more socially acceptable, socially condoned and less stigmatic. As a consequence, I believe attitudes towards gambling have softened and have become less negative. Secondly, it helped to de- masculinise gambling resulting in the increased feminisation of gambling.

To date, there has been surprisingly little research on bingo in the gambling studies field, and the little that has been carried out tends to be sociological and from a small group (and mainly qualitative) perspective. Before 2000, research showed that the majority of bingo players were working class women who felt the game offered an opportunity to socialise with friends, and was an enjoyable afternoon or night out in a safe environment at relatively little cost.

Until the advent of the smoking bans in 2007, there appeared to be a revival in the popularity of bingo in the UK. There were many likely reasons for this, including improved playing environments (bigger purpose built bingo halls), technological advance (computerised screens), improved peripheral building infrastructure (car-parking facilities, air conditioning, comfortable seating, improved eating facilities, licensed bars), and increased opportunities to market and advertise via the mass media. However, the smoking bans across the UK appear to have hit some areas of the bingo industry hard and may have inadvertently led to more people playing bingo online (as they can smoke in the convenience of their own home). This appears to be backed up by recent research.

For instance, the latest BGPS reported that nine percent of the British population had played online and/or offline bingo in last year. Although men were more likely than women to participate in most forms of gambling activity, one of the main exceptions was bingo where twice as many women (12 percent) had played in the last year compared to men (six percent).

There also appears to be a new type of bingo player - the online-only bingo player. Among bingo players, the BGPS reported that 77 percent played offline-only, 19 percent played online-only, and four percent played both online and offline.

As might be expected, playing bingo was highest among older people with 11 percent of those over the age of 75 having played bingo in the last year. However, more interesting was the fact that the bingo was almost as popular among the younger demographic with ten percent of those aged 16 to 24 years having played bingo in the last year. This group was more likely to be playing bingo online, and women were significantly more likely than men to play online bingo at least once a week.

Overall, this evidence suggests that the online bingo industry may indeed be getting a direct benefit from the lack of stigma attached to bingo as a gambling activity. Women have traditionally been underrepresented on gambling websites but bingo appears to be changing that. It appears that that the so-called ‘soft-gambling’ of bingo is opening the doors to a new audience in the shape of online bingo.
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