Why do young adults gamble online? A qualitative study of motivations to transition from social casino games to online gambling
The present research examined the mechanisms of initiating online gambling among young adults. Of particular interest was whether social casino gaming was noted as part of young adults� experience with online gambling. This is because there is growing concern that social casino gaming may be a �gateway� to online gambling. Three focus groups (N = 21) were conducted with young adult online gamblers from two large Canadian Universities. Participants noted the role of peer influence as well as incentives (e.g., sign up bonuses) as important factors that motivated them to start engaging in online gambling. Participants also noted a link between social casino games and online gambling. Specifically, several young adults reported migrating to online gambling within a relatively short period after engaging with social casino games. Potential mechanisms that may lead to the migration from social casino games to online gambling included the role of advertisements and the inflated pay out rates on these free to play gambling like games. The results suggest initiatives to prevent the development of disordered gambling should understand the potential of social casino gaming to act as a gateway to online gambling, especially amongst this vulnerable population.
Over the past decade, the use of computers and the Internet has significantly altered the gambling landscape. The gambling industry is no longer bound by brick and mortar gambling venues (e.g., casinos, racetracks). Today, access to gambling activities can be achieved with a few keystrokes on a computer. One point of access that has gained increased attention from researchers in the field of gambling studies is social media sites such as Facebook (Wohl et al. 2017). In part, this increased attention is because social media sites have become a popular platform for people to access online gambling venues via hyperlinks embedded in advertisements (Abarbanel et al. 2016). Social media sites also allow users to engage in free-to-play simulated gambling games through applications. These free-to-play simulated gambling games have become referred to as social casino games (Gainsbury et al. 2014). There is evidence to suggest, however, that social casino game play may act as a �gateway� to gambling for real money (for a review see Wohl et al. 2017).
The current research took a qualitative approach to assess young adult online gamblers experiences with online gambling to determine the process and mechanisms that may lead young adults to gamble online, including the role of social casino games. In other words, the present research aimed to examine the motivations for gambling online, including transitioning from social casino games to online gambling. A focus was placed on young adults� experience with online gambling due to their propensity to gamble online (McBride and Derevensky 2009), play social casino games (Derevensky and Gainsbury 2016), as well as their elevated rates of disordered gambling (Welte et al. 2011). Further, social casino games were the focus as there is a current need to understand the issues regarding the gaming-social media crossover.
Online gambling and social casino gambling among young adults
The Internet has changed the way people engage in many activities, including gambling. Online gambling (compared with land-based gambling) provides players with ease of access, 24/7 accessibility, and confidentiality�all within the comfort of a person�s home. This ease of access has been flagged as a potential concern among researchers, regulators, and policy makers alike (Gainsbury 2015; Gainsbury and Wood 2011; R�s�nen et al. 2013). Specifically, online gambling is often framed as a �risky� form of gambling that may heighten the risk of developing a gambling disorder (Gainsbury et al. 2015b; Griffiths et al. 2009; McBride and Derevensky 2009; Olason et al. 2011; Wood et al. 2007). In this light, it may be informative to examine factors that propel young adults to gamble online, including the link between social casino gaming and online gambling. This is because there is increasing evidence of the role played by social casino games in precipitating online gambling (Wohl et al. 2017) and young adults are increasingly exposed to social casino games (Kim et al. 2016).
Social casino games are an immensely popular form of entertainment, with millions of users playing in any given day (Derevensky and Gainsbury 2016; Martin 2014). One reason for their popularity may be their ubiquity on social network sites like Facebook, which provide ample opportunities to play social casino games via embedded apps (Gainsbury et al. 2014). Moreover, social casino games are among the most heavily advertised products on social network sites and convey the activity (i.e., gambling) as positive and glamorous (Gainsbury et al. 2015a). These advertisements appear to have a significant influence on engagement with social casino games (SuperData 2016). It should be noted that some social casino games are now owned by online gambling operators who advertise their online gambling site within the social casino game, thus easing migration from social casino gaming to online gambling (Schneider 2012).
There is now converging evidence that suggests social casino gamers migrate to online gambling (Gainsbury et al. 2016; Kim et al. 2015). Furthermore, amongst people who engage in both gambling and social casino gaming, social casino games directly increase future gambling behaviors (Gainsbury et al. 2016, 2017; Hollingshead et al. 2016). Social casino games are also popular among adolescents and young adults. In a large Canadian survey of over 10,000 students, roughly 9% reported having played social casino games (Elton-Marshall et al. 2016). In addition, a recent longitudinal study in a large sample of adolescents found that social casino games significantly predicted the transition to real money gambling (Dussault et al., in press). Providing further support for the popularity of social casino games, in focus groups with university students who were social media users, all participants reported being aware of the ample opportunities to play social casino games on Facebook, thus speaking to the increased exposure of these games on social networking sites (Kim et al. 2016).
Motivations for transitioning to online gambling from social casino gaming
Social casino games are popular among adolescents and young adults and may influence the transition to online gambling. Yet, researchers have paid little attention to potential processes or mechanisms that influences the transition to online gambling amongst this cohort, including the role played by social casino games. With that said, Hollingshead et al. (2016) argued that the motivations for playing social casino games likely mimic those of online gambling, including for excitement, to relieve boredom, and social motivations. In addition, they reported that some social casino gamers are motivated to engage in these games to hone their skills before playing for real money on online gambling sites. In line with Hollingshead et al. (2016) and King and Delfabbro (2016) proposed a framework for understanding factors that may increase or decrease the link between social casino gaming and online gambling among adolescents. Specifically, in their two pathways model, they identify both protective (e.g., early losses, awareness of risks, boredom) and risk factors (e.g., peer pressure, early big wins, greater confidence of winning) that may lead adolescents who are exposed to social casino games to either be disinterested in gambling or to increase future gambling behaviors.
The present research sought to add to the growing literature on the potential link between social casino gaming and online gambling. To do so, focus groups with young adult online gamblers were conducted to explore their motivations for gambling online, including the potential role social casino games played in initiating or facilitating online gambling behaviors. Focus groups provide a compromise between obtaining personal experiences without having to interview people individually, while also having a group environment where other people�s experience stimulate the recall and views of others. In this light, focus groups are an effective method of obtaining a variety of detailed information in an exploratory way.
Twenty-one young adults (18 males, 3 females) were recruited from two large Canadian Universities to participate in one of three focus groups described as being about young adults� experience with online gambling. Specifically, the study was advertised as a focus group for people who gambling online. It was explained that we were interested in online gamblers� �opinions and experiences regarding online gambling�.
The inclusion criteria were as follows: college students aged 18�24 years who reported gambling online at least twice per month. The method of recruitment occurred in two ways. First, all incoming first year students at one of the large Canadian universities complete a short survey screening for disordered gambling. Embedded in that questionnaire were items that assessed online gambling. This allowed us to recruit participants who met the inclusion criteria for the focus groups. Only those who consented to be recruited for future studies were contacted. The second method of recruitment consisted of visiting large classrooms and advertising the study at both universities.
While every effort was made to recruit an equal number of male and female online gamblers we were unable to do so despite our best efforts. Moreover, seven individuals who had initially agreed to participate in the study subsequently notified the research team before the group meeting that they could not participate for logistical reasons (i.e., work and school commitments, unexpected appointments). Participants in the first group were compensated $20 for their time and those in the remaining two groups were provided with $40 (the increased compensation was used as an incentive to attract a greater number of participants and was cleared by the authors� Research Ethics Board). Additionally, participants were provided food and beverages throughout the course of the discussions that ensued.
Procedure and materials
All participants were provided with a description of the study objectives and were asked to read and sign an informed consent prior to participating in the current research. Participants were informed they were free to terminate participation at any time without penalty. Thereafter, participants were asked to complete a short background questionnaire, which included demographic information (gender, age), frequency of gambling, and how knowledgeable they believe themselves to be on the topic of online gambling.
A series of open-ended questions were asked of the group as part of a larger project assessing online gambling among young adults. For the present research, two open-ended questions were of importance. The first examined general factors that lead young adults to gamble online, �I�d like to gain a better understanding of the things that lead to online gambling in the first place. Based on what you know, what are the factors, the events, or the influences that result in a young person deciding to bet money on gambling activities online?� The second assessed the social casino game-online gambling link including the potential mechanisms, �You know that social media sites have gambling-type games such as Texas-Hold�em or Sloto-mania. In your opinion, do you think experience with these games leads a person to seek online gambling sites? In other words, do these types of games serve as a form of initiation to gambling online with real money?�
A licensed clinical psychologist trained in conducting focus groups led the discussions accompanied by two note-takers. Each group was approximately 60�75 min in duration and discussions were conducted at two Canadian universities. Two recording devices recorded the focus group to ensure no loss of data. Upon the completion of the focus groups, the discussions were subsequently transcribed by a professional coder and coded by two independent reviewers. The initial categories generated by the data were highly consistent between the two raters with regards to general themes and number of categories. The data was reviewed two additional times to arrive at a consensus when disagreements between raters were noted. Categorical names were arrived through consensus after discussion between raters. NVivo 10 qualitative research software for qualitative analyses was used to organize and quantify the data.
With respect to frequency of online gambling, 52% of individuals indicated gambling less than once per week, while 48% indicated gambling at least once per week or several times per week. Seventy-six percent of individuals indicated gambling more frequently and/or for longer periods of time than intended (61.9% occasionally; 14.4% often). Participants were asked to indicate on a 7-point Likert scale how knowledgeable they perceived themselves to be on the topic of online gambling. The overall mean score was 4.38. The majority of the sample (85.7%) indicated that they tend to play on one or two online gambling sites, whereas 14.3% stated they like to experiment with different sites. Importantly, more than half (62%) of the participants revealed playing social casino games (e.g., Texas Hold�em) on Facebook or on other platforms. Of the participants (n = 3) who spontaneously reported having transitioned from playing for fun to online gambling, they did so in relatively short period of time. One participant reported transitioning after only two weeks, while another stated having moved to real money gambling after a couple of months.
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