Free Space

25 March 2009
"Freud famously once said 'sometimes a cigar is just a cigar' and this is certainly true of the increasing numbers of women taking up the habit despite worldwide smoking bans."

This was the opening line I wrote for a story in Arena magazine last year. I dragged out the copy as I heard the news that Arena had folded.

It made me think about the increasing numbers of women catching the online gambling bug -- what games do they like, and why, exactly, are they gambling on the Net?

Less Adrenaline, Please

I spoke with Rachael Church-Sanders, gambling industry expert and author of the Screen Digest Report, "Bingo in the Digital Age," about the current market and women’s favorite online gambling activity.

"The gaming operators I have spoken to recently (which also run sportsbooks) say that women seem to prefer lower-adrenaline-fuelled-slash-lower-risk types of gaming, such as bingo and casino-slash-slots," she said. "Of course this is not universal, however, with some women liking poker and betting for example."

Quoting data from the market research group Hitwise, she said three out of every five visitors to a bingo Web site, globally, are female.

"The Bingo Association and Henley Centre research group claim that around 70 percent of all bingo players in the U.K. are female and, overall, that 10 percent of all women in the UK play bingo in some format," she said. "The research company Mintel claims that bingo is the most popular leisure activity for women in the U.K. aged between 20 and 25 years old, a demographic that is less likely to play online poker or take part in sports betting."

According to Ms. Church-Sanders' Screen Digest report, online bingo has become the fastest-growing sector of the online gaming market and offers huge potential for further growth. Moreover, the report anticipates global online bingo to generate over half a billion pounds for operators in 2013.

Because It's a Pastime, and Soft

I asked Ms. Church-Sanders why women prefer bingo. She told me the game is seen as a safe pastime and that customers do not really see themselves as "gamblers" and are unlikely to feel any unease about playing it.

"This view of bingo as 'soft' gaming is further reinforced by advertising campaigns by larger operators, which focus on bingo as a fun pastime and are increasingly trying to appeal to a younger, upwardly mobile modern audience," she said. "Their aim is to transform the game from being the staple of the 'blue-rinsed' elderly brigade into a trendy game for people in their 20s and 30s."

Evidence suggests that the number one reason is enjoyment, Ms. Church-Sanders said, and that winning money comes in further down the scale. She also said that bingo play improves the mood of many women players and many engage in bingo for its social aspects.

A Late-Night Affair

Ms. Church-Sanders’ report indicates that according to Parlay Entertainment Inc., "women spend 50 percent more time each week playing bingo than men and 28 percent of women aged over 40 years play between midnight and 5 a.m. Afternoons, evenings and weekends are also popular."

Proof Per Se

I finally asked this analyst what the future holds for bingo during current economic downturn, and she remains hopeful.

"Whilst the online bingo industry might not be recession-proof per se, it appears from these figures to be recession-resistant at least," she said. "It is now up to bingo operators to be more creative in targeting new players -- and more importantly -- holding onto existing ones."

Ms. Soteriou is a research psychologist, doctoral candidate and freelance journalist based in London.