Social Media and Online Gambling in the 21st-Century
Online gambling and social media are two of the fastest-growing aspects of the Internet. Both industries are a major part of many mobile smartphone users’ everyday lifestyle. The two industries intersect in a number of ways. Simulated casino gaming draws people to social media sites, while social media acts as a perfect marketing tool for online gambling sites.
Many people, including researchers in the UK and Australia, wonder if either social media or online gambling are healthy for people. Several times in the past few years, university professors have studied the impact on both adults and children when the two are combined. Keep reading to learn more about these studies and the surprising results.
Online Gambling Industry Meets Social Media
Online gambling began in the last decade of the 20th century, but the industry has evolved in the last century – most notably with mobile devices and social media sites. Online casinos, sportsbooks, and poker sites have official pages on Twitter and Facebook, which they use to market themselves to potential new customers.
Gaming operators cannot offer real money casino games on the most important social media sites, though the UK allows such gaming. Top online gambling operators offer social gaming apps that are available on the iTunes Apps Store and Google Play.
How Is Social Media Shaping Online Gambling?
Americans spend a large amount of their time on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Whether at work, at lunch, or at home in their leisure time, many people use social media to handle most of their interactions with old friends, new acquaintances, and family members. Social media increasingly drives marketing for businesses and even political candidates.
Child-Focused Casino Games
In January 2018, British Facebook users criticized Scientific Games for its child-focused free slots games on its Jackpot Party gaming app, which allowed children to play free slots titles like OMG! Kittens. The case is an illustration of how social media and online gambling intertwine, despite laws against real money gambling on most versions of Facebook and Twitter.
Beyond the real money operators, many Facebook users play popular social gaming apps like Zynga, Big Fish Games, Game Show Network (GNS), and Doubledown Casino. These free casino games draw criticism from parents’ groups and anti-gambling activists, who say they are habit-forming. Free casino games create gambling habits later in life.
Adolescents and Simulated Casino Games
Similar concerns led a group of Australian researchers to launch a 2014 study called “Adolescent Simulated Gambling via Digital and Social Media”. Daniel L. King of the University of Adelaide’s School of Psychology and his colleagues focused on underage simulated gambling on social media, as well as general electronic media usage by Australian adolescents.
The sample size included 1,287 high school students aged 12-17 from seven secondary schools in Adelaide. The researchers studied the students’ behavior and responses in several areas:
- Electronic Media Use
- Gambling Behavior
- Indicators of Pathological Gambling
- Mental Health
Types of Simulated Gambling
The study focused on three types of simulated gambling:
Standard Gambling Simulations
Free games which mimicked blackjack, roulette, or Texas Hold’em.
Non-Standard Gambling Simulations
Video games that had casino gambling as a game-within-a-game, but were a small percentage of gameplay. Examples include casino simulations in Red Dead Redemption and Fable II: Pub Games.
Non-interactive gambling material or gambling-related paraphernalia or materials within the context of the video game.
Limitations of the Study
The Adelaide University research team noted their study had several limitations which should be considered. The study did not track subjects over time and therefore cannot track whether social media games cause monetary gambling. Past gambling activities were self-reported by the students. Such responses are considered less accurate observational data collection.
Also, pathological gambling is a rare occurrence. To test for signs of problem gambling, students were classified as “at-risk” when they displayed relatively mild symptoms. Potential predictive risk factors like a student’s general impulsivity or a family history of problem gambling were not tested.
Relationship Between Social Media and Gambling
Dr. King concluded that “gambling-like” games on social media groom children for real money gambling later in life because they familiarize underage users with how to play casino games. They found a boost in gaming habits of 3 to 5 times the baseline level. The researchers did not predict the percentage of students who would exhibit pathological gambling – only that they were more apt to gamble.
The following graph shows the gambling behavioral results of students that paid for social casino games versus non-paying students:
Smartphone Addiction Percentages
What people might not expect is the high likelihood of smartphone addiction and social media addiction in those studied. Like the Adelaide University report, researchers in a 2018 study found that students face a higher risk of smartphone addiction. A full 30.9% of underage children who use mobile devices exhibit signs of smartphone addiction. The other 69.1% were identified as a “normal user group”.
Cell Phone Addiction in Adults
Research numbers for adults who exhibit signs of smartphone addiction are even higher. A 2012 SecurEnvoy poll found that 66% of UK smartphone users showed at least mild signs of “nomophobia“, defined as the “irrational fear” of being without one’s cell phone. According to the study, 41% of people have two or more phones in order to stay connected at all times.
The Effects of Social Casino Games on Young Children
Problem gambling and pathological gambling are concerns. Social casino games increase the likelihood that a child will gamble later in life. Companies should adopt policies to keep underage children from playing free casino games on social media, while governments should consider laws to ban such gaming if companies don’t act.
Focusing only on gambling addiction would be a mistake, though. A far higher number of children and adults who spend a lot of time on social media sites risk developing social media and smartphone addiction. If you can’t get through a meal without looking at your texts, you’re exhibiting signs of either social media addiction or smartphone addiction. Just like problem gambling, people should pay attention to such behavior and take steps to counter it.
Social media lets us connect to our loved ones, just like gambling is a form of entertainment millions of people enjoy. Fun and leisure can give way to addiction if a person loses themselves in the activities they love. Any activity becomes destructive when done to excess.