The average online gambler is not playing to win long-term; he is there to be entertained, according to the results a survey released on Wednesday.
eCOGRA (eCommerce and Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance), the Internet gambling industry's player protection and standards authority, in August commissioned researchers at the Betting and International Gaming Research Units at Nottingham Trent University to conduct the eCOGRA Global Online Gambler Survey, aimed at improving the industry for the players, not the operators.
Between September and October 2006, researchers surveyed 10,865 people from 96 countries via the Internet on their attitudes and behaviors regarding online gambling. In addition, they held 15 focus groups in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and Sweden in November 2006.
According to the research, when players were asked why they gambled online, answers such as "to relax" and "for entertainment" far outweighed "to make money" and "to win," leading researchers to conclude that online gamblers view the activity as mostly recreational.
"The research was a big eye-opener for me because my background was actually in problem gambling," said Jonathan Parke of the International Gaming Research Unit at NTU. "And I have to admit I was surprised, when we did the focus groups, at the extent at which people did actually play for the entertainment, fun motive as opposed to the profit motive."
Parke said the main objective in conducting the survey was just to get the basics.
"We wanted to find out who does it and when they do it so we can then find out more specific things like strategy and other issues relating to responsible gambling, etcetera," Parke said.
Overall, players felt that there was room for improvement across a range of areas in the industry, with 55 percent wanting to see more sites submit themselves to effective self regulation. Other issues include (in order of importance): operator transparency (55 percent); clarity of regulations (54 percent); uniformity of code of conduct (51 percent); responsiveness to complaints (49 percent); and better responsible gambling features (48 percent). In addition to the 55 percent who supported effective self regulation, a further one in four players (25 percent) felt very strongly about the need for sites to sign up to an industry-wide code of conduct, according to the results.
"I was surprised, once again coming from a problem gambling background, to find that although people thought responsible gambling was important most thought it was a player's responsibility," Parke said. "So, they tended to prefer things like regular financial statements. I think they wanted to be empowered rather than controlled. They didn't want to have to hand over the responsibility of playing up to certain limits, etcetera. They wanted to have information. They wanted the transparency so that everything was upfront and honest, but they wanted to have their own control over how they play and when they play."
On the other hand, Parke found that regardless of players' self-proclaimed need for independence, some still tend toward sites that offer responsible gambling mechanisms.
"Even though they (players) were a little bit skeptical about the role the industry has in terms of responsible gambling, they did also say in some of the focus groups that they would be prepared to play with the operator that had the responsible gambling features," Parke said. "So there is an implicit trust there. I thought it was a little bit ironic that they didn't really need features so much, but if they were on offer, even if they didn't use them, they felt that that brand was probably to be trusted more."
Other results of the survey found that the average online poker player is a male between the ages of 26 and 35 who plays two to three times per week. Conversely, the average online casino player is likely to be a female between the ages of 46 and 55. She also plays two to three times per week.
Parke acknowledged he expected to see different results.
"I thought it was a revealing finding, obviously the gender shift, although I am less surprised about that," he said. "I thought there would have been more women playing poker, but then again I think given what we knew in terms of the typical profile of a player, they thought it was about 85 percent men. But, according to this new research, the gap is closing again. I guess that's going to continue to grow."
The typical online gambler wagers £15 to £20 ($29 to $39) during a session and the vast majority of players say they are up or down within a range plus or minus £130 ($255) a month or £32.50 ($63.83) per week – less than the cost of a night out at a bar and a taxi ride home, according to the research.
"I was surprised when we went to do our Canadian and U.S. focus groups; I think there was one person that said overall he definitely played to make a profit. And I was surprised that most people were saying it (online gambling) was a fun thing and sometimes they did it instead of going out to the bar or instead of catching a show," Parke said. "They might spend 20 or 30 bucks in a session, but as opposed to going to the movies or a bar, at least they know they have a chance of making some money. Coming from a problem gambling background I was encouraged by that."
In terms of problem gambling, Parke said there is always going to be a small percentage of people with the problem. However, he said that in the United Kingdom, too much focus is being given to such a small percentage of people who enjoy online gambling.
eCOGRA CEO Andrew Beveridge said in a prepared statement that he is encouraged by the results, but he recognizes eCOGRA has a long way to go in terms of moving operators toward committing to standards regarding fair play, responsible conduct and provisions to address problem gambling.
"This report provides invaluable information that will shape our approach for the next year as we continue to provide players with a gold standard level of protection," Beveridge said. "We are delighted that the vast majority of players who responded were supportive of eCOGRA's efforts and we hope this endorsement will encourage those within the industry that have yet to apply for our Play it Safe seal, to do so over the coming year."