NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction

Monday, November 17, 2008

Inside the Virtual Casino: Betting Patterns of Online Gamblers

Dr. Sarah Nelson, instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, opened this afternoon’s session on online gambling by pointing out that the research being discussed in the session was notable because it is based on actual behavioral gambling data, rather than self-report data.

Nelson introduced Dr. Richard LaBrie, instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who outlined the results of a longitudinal study of actual Internet casino gambling that used data collected through a collaboration with bwin International, an Internet gambling company based in Austria. The study was a follow-up to previous research that focused on the habits of Internet sports bettors.

In the Internet casino study, researchers studied the gambling behavior of 4,222 gamblers from 46 countries. The sample was 93 percent male; however, results showed that women made more bets per day, played more quickly and with a greater intensity.

The study found discontinuities between the gambling behavior of top 5 percent of the most-involved casino bettors, those who lost the most money, and the gambling behavior of the rest of the sample. This subgroup would be most likely to contain individuals who have gambling problems as defined by large losses, but it also would contain individuals who have a lot of money available to lose.

When the extreme 5 percent of subjects were compared to the rest of the sample, they were found to gamble longer, place more bets per day and place larger bets than the other 95 percent of the sample. Correlations among Internet casino gambling show that gamblers tend to be consistent in their day-to-day betting and that gamblers exhibit rational decision-making because their wagering tended to decrease as losses increased.

Dr. Debi LaPlante, instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, followed LaBrie with descriptions of two studies of responsible gaming efforts in the virtual world. These studies also utilized data from bwin and examined the effects of corporate deposit limits and self-limitation of deposits on online gamblers.

LaPlante explained that bwin subscribers who try to deposit more than the allowed amount receive a notification message that they are about to exceed the deposit limit, and bwin then rejects the deposit. Only 0.3 percent of the overall sample received at least one notification (exceeders). Exceeders were found to have the same number of active betting days as other gamblers, but their bets per day and the size of bets were higher than others. They were more likely to be members of the most involved bettors group, and while they lost more money overall, exceeders lost a smaller percentage of what they gambled. It was found that once exceeders were notified, they made fewer, larger bets, meaning that notifications did not stop them from betting, they merely changed the way they bet. According to LaPlante, this information illustrates an apparent need to rethink the use of notification systems as harm reduction devices for those at risk for excessive patterns of betting.

A study of the “self-limitation of deposits” option that bwin gives its subscribers found that 1.2 percent of the overall sample were “limiters.” Compared to those who did not self-limit their deposits, limiters were found to play a greater diversity of games, bet on more days, place more bets per day and wager less money per bet. The study found that after self-limitation, limiters generally moved toward fewer active betting days, fewer bets per day and smaller amounts wagered. LaPlante pointed out that since limiters were more active bettors than the rest of the sample, if self-limitation is a sign of disordered gambling, involvement might be as important to indicating gambling-related problems as expenditures.

LaPlante concluded by noting that the Internet provides unique opportunities for harm-reduction devices that might be executed with some degree of success; however, limiting resources are only helpful if people can access them easily and interventions can only work if messages reach the intended target.

During the question and answer period, an audience member asked if self-limitation could be viewed as a marker of a gambler’s intention to modify behavior and practice a greater level of self-control. Nelson replied that many people stopped gambling altogether after imposing limits and 7 percent of people set self-limitation before they placed a bet.


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