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How is Technology Innovation Impacting Gambling Addiction?
Most of the rapidly shifting trends in gambling are due to technological innovation in the gambling industry. Many of these innovations may have direct or indirect impact on the prevalence and types of problem gambling. Activities that were once done in a dedicated gambling environment (e.g., casino, bingo hall) can now be done from the home, the workplace and/or on the move.
- Technology convergence: One very salient trend is that technology hardware is becoming increasingly convergent (e.g., internet access via smartphones and interactive television) and there is increasing multi-media integration such as gambling and gaming via social networking sites. In addition to convergent hardware, there is also convergent content. This includes some forms of gambling including video game elements, video games including gambling elements, and television programming with gambling-like elements. Much of these new gambling-like activities remain little researched and blur the boundaries between gambling and gaming. However, the increasing accessibility (and ease of accessibility) may increase the prevalence rates of gambling addiction.
- Gambling via social networking sites: The launch of the first gambling for money game (i.e., Bingo Friendzy) on Facebook in August 2012 received worldwide media interest, and most gaming operators are now watching closely to see whether the move from social gaming to social gambling will be profitable. Gambling-type games are popular on Facebook. Texas Hold ‘Em Poker is currently one of the most popular games with 24 million players worldwide. Even when games do not involve money (e.g., playing poker for points on Facebook), it introduces players (e.g., youth) to the principles and excitement of gambling.
Social networking sites have the potential to normalise gambling behavior as part of the consumption patterns of a non-gambling leisure activity. -Mark Griffiths
One of the key psychological ingredients in both gambling (e.g., slot machine) and social gaming is the use of operant conditioning and random reinforcement schedules. Social networking sites have the potential to normalise gambling behavior as part of the consumption patterns of a non-gambling leisure activity. This may change social understandings of the role of gambling among young people. Today’s youth are more tech-savvy, have no techno-phobia, and very trusting of these new technologies. Facebook has changed the way people (and possibly) gamblers are playing games. Empirically, we know almost nothing about the psychosocial impact of gambling via social networking sites although recent research suggests the playing of free games among adolescents is one of the risk factors for both the uptake of real gambling and problem gambling.
- Mobile gambling: One of the key drivers behind the increased numbers of people gambling online and using social networking sites is the rise of mobile gambling and gaming. Compared to internet gambling, mobile gambling is still a relatively untapped area but the functional capabilities of mobile phones and other mobile devices are improving all the time. There are now hundreds of gambling companies that provide casino-style games to be downloaded onto the gambler’s smartphone or mobile device (e.g., tablet or laptop). This will have implications for the psychosocial impact of gambling and will need monitoring. Like online gambling, mobile gaming has the capacity to completely change the way people think about gambling and betting. Mobile phones provide the convenience of making bets or gambling from wherever the person is, even if they are on the move.
- Emergence of new type(s) of problem gambling: The rise of online poker has been one of the success stories for the online gaming industry. This rise has also led to more research in this area including some that suggests a different way of viewing problem gambling. For instance, research has suggested that online poker may be producing a new type of problem gambler where the main negative consequence is loss of time (rather than loss of money). This research has identified a group of problem gamblers who (on the whole) win more money than they lose. However, they may be spending excessive amounts of time (e.g., 12 to 14 hours a day) to do this. This could have implications for problem gambling criteria in the future (i.e., there may be more criteria relating to the consequences of time conflicts as opposed to financial consequences). Other new types of problem gambler may be those who gamble via social networking sites and/or those that gamble via their mobile devices (e.g., smartphones and tablets).
- Increased use of behavioral tracking data: New technologies in the form of behavioral tracking have helped online gambling companies keep track of players by noting (among many other things) what games the customer is playing, the time spent playing, and the number of wins and losses. Although such technologies can potentially be used to exploit gamblers (e.g., targeting the heaviest spenders with direct marketing promotions to gamble even more), such technologies can also be used to help gamblers that may have difficulties stopping and/or limiting their gambling behavior.
Although such technologies can potentially be used to exploit gamblers (e.g., targeting the heaviest spenders with direct marketing promotions to gamble even more), such technologies can also be used to help gamblers that may have difficulties stopping and/or limiting their gambling behavior. -Mark Griffiths
Over the past few years, innovative social responsibility tools that track player behavior with the aim of preventing problem gambling have been developed. The companies who have developed these tools claim that they can detect problematic gambling behavior online through analysis of behavioral tracking data. If problem gambling can be detected this way, it suggests that there are identifiable behaviors associated with online problem gambling. Given that almost all of the current validated problem gambling screens diagnose problem gambling based on many of the consequences of problem gambling (e.g., compromising job, education, hobbies and/or relationship because of gambling; committing criminal acts to fund gambling behavior; lying to family and friends about the extent of gambling, etc.), behavioral tracking data suggests that problem gambling can be identified without the need to assess the negative psychosocial consequences of problem gambling.
- Online help and therapy for problem gamblers: Finally, one very notable trend that is likely to become more important is the use of technology in the area of help, guidance, and treatment of gambling addicts. Although there are some disadvantages to online therapy for problem gamblers (e.g., lack of non-verbal information for the therapist, the therapist not being totally certain of the client’s identity, issues surrounding which jurisdiction the therapist is licensed to practice, technological failures, the client’s severity of problem, client referral problems, etc.), there are many advantages including convenience, cost-effectiveness, helping overcome social stigma, and helping overcome barriers that may prevent people from seeking face-to-face help (e.g., feeling stigmatized, being disabled, being geographically isolated, being in an institution). Additionally, many of the generic factors that make the internet attractive for gambling online are the very same factors that may attract those with gambling problems to seek help online (e.g., ease of accessibility, affordability, anonymity, disinhibition, etc.).
Research has suggested that online poker may be producing a new type of problem gambler where the main negative consequence is loss of time (rather than loss of money). -Mark Griffiths
Obviously the trends highlighted in this brief article are somewhat subjective and based on my own expertise within the gambling studies field. The examples of technological innovation in this article highlight that commercial operators always appear to exploit new market opportunities in emerging media and that they are often two steps ahead of legislation. All of the issues and trends reported here have the potential to affect gambling practices and deserve further debate and empirical research.