NUI Galway Study Inspects Online Gambling Behaviour


Online gambling has grown in popularity over the years all over the world and even more so during the last year of the Covid-19 global pandemic. With people across the globe stuck at home, social distancing, and out of work, the pastime has gained an astoundingly large following.

The detrimental effects associated with gambling, however, have sparked public interest, leading to research being conducted into the behaviour of several groups of individuals to determine the goals, motivations, and patterns of behaviour in highly involved gamblers. 

Beyond those constituents, the NUI Galway study also aimed to ascertain the global prevalence of problem gambling and to offer suggestions for solutions to ameliorate the problematic usage patterns in high-risk gamblers.

The study 

A recent study carried out by the J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics at NUI Galway (National University of Ireland) examined a group of highly involved gamblers and how the gratification they seek differs between problem gamblers and non-problem gamblers. 

The study focused specifically on mobile gambling, in which people gamble on apps and online casino websites directly from their smartphones. Combining the Uses and Gratifications (U&G) and Dualistic Model of Passion (DMP) frameworks, researchers collected data from a global sample of 327 individuals who use gambling apps on a weekly basis. 

Data from participants were collected in two waves, focusing on mobile gambling habits, mood and mood changes, and reasons for engaging in the behaviour in order to identify the different media gratification triggers. By combining these factors and outcomes we can get a realistic picture of the causes of problematic gambling manifest, despite known negative consequences.

The findings

Published in February 2021, the study found that high involvement in mobile gambling is not inherently problematic. The key finding was the differences in motivation and gratifications-sought between problem and non-problem gamblers. 

Problem gamblers tend to use gambling apps to alleviate boredom and promote social interaction with others. Non-problem gamblers, conversely, gravitate toward mobile gambling for simple entertainment and relaxation purposes.

Additionally, the mood of the individual when they decide to participate in mobile gambling depends on their personal feelings toward the activity. If (or when) the individual’s craving for mobile gambling is obsessive, their mood is low, gloomy, and rather melancholy. However, when the drive to play is for fun, the subject’s passion is under control, leading to a much more elevated mood.

Pathological gambling

What this means is that for some, gambling is a non-problematic lifestyle activity that they engage in for simple recreation and fun. According to this study, this type of gambling can be categorized as responsible gambling. A non-obsessive habit that’s indulged in for fun and relaxation.

Pathological gambling, on the other hand, is problematic for the lives and mental well being of affected individuals. When pursuing mobile gambling for dubious reasons, such as avoidance, depression, or unchecked impulse, this can reflect a mental disorder. Individuals in this category are characterized by their inability to control their behaviour, leading to severe functional impairment.

The prevalence of problem gambling is estimated to vary between 0.12% and 5.8% in different countries around the globe and is caused by a variety of factors such as environment, peer influence, negative life events, or poor emotional regulation skills. 

The recommendations

The lead author of the study, Dr Eoin Whelan, said, “Our study sought to find out what differentiates the two groups with the findings suggesting social gratifications are much more pertinent in problematic gamblers. The link between social gratifications and obsessive gambling could be a result of the broader cultural normalisation of mobile gambling.”

The answer, therefore, lies in the comingling of mobile gambling and positive depictions of social acceptance in the marketing of these platforms. The study’s authors recommend online gambling regulators focus on restricting this depiction in advertising to ameliorate the effects it might have on vulnerable individuals — or those engaging in mobile gambling for problematic reasons.

A casino in your pocket

The landscape of gambling has changed drastically in the last two decades. What was once a physical activity (i.e. travelling to a land-based casino) has now evolved, introducing new dimensions and gambling opportunities by means of mobile technology. Mobile gambling apps run in the background, frequently popping up notifications that are ever more personalized and tailored to a player’s gambling behaviour.

Studies like this are a sign of the times. The convenience of gambling from a mobile device has increased users and user demographics significantly in recent times. Without having to drive to a local casino or bookmaker, it becomes ever easier to simply unlock your phone and begin gambling. The ease with which gamblers can access an online casino or gambling app has made the practice less of an outing or occasion and more impulsive and habitual behaviour. 

The accessibility, personalization, and social acceptance of mobile gambling have all converged to create a perfect storm for a subgroup of vulnerable individuals. There’s no question that a public health need exists to study the issues surrounding problem gambling and the related social consequences. Thankfully, this study has shed some light on the motivations of individuals so that we can better understand the problem.