Land based vs Online Casinos ‐ which is more addictive?


For years anti-online gambling proponents have argued that online casinos have increased the rate of gambling addition exponentially. This argument has been splashed across headlines and been presented on the floors of congressional meetings across the world in an attempt to outlaw and halt online gambling completely.

Unfortunately however, the argument has been based more on theoretical conjecture rather than proven research and factual evidence as for over a decade there has been little in the way of reliable, comprehensive data due to the fact that the majority of independent studies have used unreliably small sample sizes and monitoring environments that don't accurately simulate those of gambling establishments. According to experts, the misrepresentation of statistics ‐ both intentionally and unintentionally has also compromised findings.

In recent years however, as the debate over online gambling has intensified, researchers have been employed to do in-depth studies of both online and brick and mortar gambling activities and have found that architectural design cues make players want to gamble perhaps even more than digital environment. But most remarkably, after examining unprecedented amounts of unbiased online gambling data as players operate in an authentic digital gambling environment, the research has shown a noteworthy finding: Online gamblers exhibit a remarkable measure of restraint.

Harvard Medical School's Division on Addiction was employed to provide public policy makers with empirical research on online gambling and after studying two years' worth of data from Bwin, one of Europe's largest online gaming operators, offering sports betting, online casino and poker games to players, have reached some general conclusions regarding the behaviour of online gamblers.

One of the study's main emerging themes was that in each gambling category, the majority of players played occasionally and in moderation with only a small segment of players ‐ between one and five percent ‐ exhibiting intense gambling patterns that far exceeded the rest of the sample.

From the sample of over 4,000 online casino visitors, the average betting frequency over a period of nine months amounted to once every two weeks, with players losing around 5.5% of the money they wagered. Of the 40,000 sports bettors examined, punters placed an average of 2.5 bets totalling $5.50 every four days.

The University of Hamburg also conducted independent studies to supplement the work done by Harvard Medical School by observing over two million online poker identities over a 6 month period and found that the average player played just 4.88 hours and the majority spent less than a dollar in rake fees per hour per table. It is important to note that the university placed emphasis on the average player as they concluded that the small group of intense gamblers increased the average values of the larger group quite considerably.

The data from the new research suggests that online gambling will not be the agent of societal destruction as the politicians and anti-gambling proponents claim. In fact, the effects of the vast exposure to online gambling across the globe on a large scale in recent years have been relatively mild.

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These finding reinforce the opinion of Howard Shaffer and Ryan Martin of Harvard's Division on Addiction who, in 2011 wrote that "contrary to predictions derived from the exposure model, the prevalence of Pathological Gambling has remained stable or been influenced by adaptation during the past 35 years despite an unprecedented increase in opportunities and access to gambling".

From this statement Shaffer explains that when new opportunities to gamble are created, there will always be a short term increase in activity, but these activities do subside and levels return to normal. In the matter of online gambling, people either acclimate to the increased availability of gambling or simply tire of the activity relatively quickly once the novelty wears off.

Interestingly however, this is not always the case with land based gambling activities and this researchers have found, has to do with architectural and design cues that brick and mortar casinos use to encourage gambling behaviour. In fact, in 2006, the University of Guelph published a paper which concluded that specific casinos designs influenced people's desire to gamble.

The study's authors introduced subjects to two design layouts for casinos ‐ the first known as the playground model which was characterized by warm colours, the presence of accessible green space and moving water, and the Friedman design, wherein gambling equipment was dominant and decorative features where only used to highlight and enhance the equipment.

Researchers then collected emotional and psychological responses of the subjects in the two environments and found that the playground model elicited higher responses of pleasure and were linked to the subject's willingness to gamble making them feel great and want to stay longer and play more. This research has found real life applications at the Bellagio and Wynn hotel casinos in Las Vegas, which both employ the playground style of décor and have some of the highest earning of all the Las Vegas casinos on the strip.

These findings can also be applied to the debate on whether online casinos or land based venues are more addictive. If casinos like the Bellagio lie on the extreme end of the spectrum with their playground designs, the personal computer, laptop or mobile device will lie on the opposite end ‐ the Friedman side.

When players play at online casinos, they only have their computers or mobile devices as the dominant piece of equipment and the only feature and even though they are playing in the comfort of their homes or an environment of their choosing, they are generally not subject to the same luxurious environments and social atmospheres created by land based venues and will inevitably experience eye fatigue, a feeling of isolation and perhaps even boredom which will stop them from playing. Whereas at land based casinos, one is surrounded by pleasing décor, the feeling of camaraderie with other gamblers and there is simply no reason to leave other than running out of money. Makes you think...