I-Gaming Problem Gambling Research Depends on Industry Participation

18 August 2006

An independent researcher in Canada is about to embark on a global research project aimed at beefing up responsible gambling policies within the Internet gambling industry.

Dr. Jaime Wiebe, president of Ontario-based Factz Research Institute (specializing in research in gambling and other addictions), and Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, proposed the study in May to the Interactive Gaming Council, which is supporting the project by helping recruit members to participate in the research.

"This is a study to learn about player practices, perceptions and needs regarding player protection strategies," said Rick Smith, executive director of the IGC. "It is not a study to examine the problems caused by online gambling. The aim is to identify what can be done to assist people who have problems in controlling their online gambling."

Wiebe said the primary objective of the research is to develop an effective industry-wide approach to problem gambling prevention and education.

The study will cover the global industry and include all types of gambling, including sports betting, poker, casino and horse race wagering.

Wiebe will collect data on the gambling patterns of Internet players, including frequency and duration of play; the nature and extent of gambling problems; the characteristics, behaviors and consequences of uncontrolled gambling; and awareness and use of resources available to keep gambling safe.

The research has not begun, and Wiebe said the start date will be dictated by how long it takes to get enough gambling Web sites involved in the research.

"There is definite interest," she said. "We just need to get more sites involved."

Participating online gaming sites will remain anonymous, Wiebe said, because the project is not about evaluating specific Internet sites; it's about evaluating the players.

"We know so little about what's going on," she said. "Until we talk to the players and find out what's really going on, we can't possibly come up with a solution to the problem."

After the sites are on board, the next step is developing an online survey, which Wiebe has already begun to formulate.

"I know the main areas that I would want to look at," Wiebe said. "I have done four gambling prevalence studies and problem gambling studies in the past, so I have the basic questions and objectives in mind."

Wiebe has researched the gambling industry and problem gambling for 10 years. She has a PhD in community health and a background in addictions research. Before joining Factz, she was the director of research with the Responsible Gambling Council in Ontario.

Internet gambling has been a difficult area to research in terms of gambling-related problems, she said, thus making it nearly impossible to design adequate programs to address responsible gambling both for the gambler and the operator.

"Internet gambling is problematic because it is isolated and available 24 hours a day," Wiebe said. "And young adults are drawn to it and have the greatest likelihood of developing a problem. That said, the nature of the Internet allows for safeguards that land-based casinos don't have, such as information about recognizing when you have a problem and where to get help. This is a golden opportunity for education and prevention."

Unlike the project that online gambling watchdog eCOGRA is about to launch, which will focus on finding out what players want from an online gaming experience, this project looks to assist organizations and possibly policymakers in designing effective prevention and education services to aid at-risk and problem gamblers.

"We believe that anybody involved in gambling, whether it's the gambler or the operator, needs to do so responsibly," Whyte said. "Since we're (NCPG) neutral on gambling we don't see interactive gambling as unique from any other form."

Whyte's perspective is that the research is also going to benefit the operators.

"The industry knows that if they don't rely on groups like ours, the regulators are going to impose rules that aren't going to be in their favor," he said.

Wiebe said once she has enough Web sites involved and the survey is written, she will be able to apply for funding for the research. They haven't set a date for when this will happen.

Emily Swoboda is the senior staff writer at IGamingNews. She lives in St. Louis, Mo.