Legalizing and regulating online gambling in the United States and Canada could help reduce some of its most negative effects on consumers, says a new study by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and the University of Western Ontario. The study, "Blackjack in the Kitchen: Understanding Online Versus Casino Gambling," will be published in the February 2009 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.
"The integration of online gambling in the home can more easily turn gambling behavior into a component of a consumer's everyday life, like watching television," said Kathryn LaTour, associate professor at UNLV's William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. "When online gambling becomes a routine daily behavior, it is easier for consumers to engage in mindless consumption of that activity, ultimately resulting in addiction and resultant financial losses."
For the study, LaTour and colleague June Cotte, marketing professor at University of Western Ontario, interviewed 20 regular casino gamblers and 10 regular online gamblers using pictures as stimuli to learn what gambling feels like and how it is perceived. Results show online gamblers gamble more frequently and aggressively.
That's true, LaTour and Cotte explain, because casino gambling, which requires travel to an outside location, is more difficult to hide. In contrast, access to online gambling is as easy as the click of a computer mouse and is easily integrated into daily home routines, meaning more time can be spent on gambling. In addition, online gambling lacks social interaction so participants are involved for the game, rather than other aspects, which may appeal to their competitive streak and increase the risk of addiction.
One potential solution for many of these problems, the study asserts, is to allow legitimate corporate sponsors of gambling, like the corporations who run major casinos in the U.S. and the government sponsors in Canada, to enter a newly regulated market for online gambling.
"Just as legalized commercial gambling in casinos allowed governments to regulate it, so too could the legalization of online gambling allow for better regulation, including efforts designed to reduce the number of problem gamblers," said LaTour.
Cotte and LaTour suggest that the following strategies could also be tied into online regulations, thereby helping reduce the incidences of problem gambling:
o Better use of age checks when signing up for an online account
o Cross-checking new users with lists of pathological gamblers
o Setting financial limits on gambling and having the site communicate to gamblers
that they are spending long hours and a lot of money
o Making information available about problem gambling treatments via pop-ups on
o Having an online gambling counselor available online
o Mandatory "cooling-off periods," which force online gamblers to stop gambling for a
re-set amount of time before they are allowed to wager money from their accounts
o Making tabulations of wins and losses more central and larger on the screen
LaTour and Cotte also recommend online gambling casinos minimize use of flashing bold graphics to signal wins to lessen the emotional experience for gamblers.
Online gambling is currently illegal in the United States and is only allowed in Canada when initiated by its provincial lottery corporations. However, North American consumers can easily engage in online gambling via internet companies located offshore. As a result, recent estimates of online gambling revenues range between ten and twelve billion dollars annually.
The study was funded by a grant from the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration at UNLV.