Gamblers are from Mars, social casino gamers are from Venus

australia-social-gaming-studyA new Australian study suggests that not only are social casino games harmless for the vast majority of players, the free-play products could provide an alternative outlet for problem gamblers.

The study, which was announced two years ago, explored the connections between social casino play and real-money gambling. (The study also examined Aussie betting operators use of social media to promote their businesses, but we’ll examine that aspect in a future article.)

The study was funded by Gambling Research Australia and conducted by Southern Cross University researcher Sally Gainsbury. For those of you keen enough to read the whole 302-page report, it’s viewable here, while the rest of you lazy bastards can continue reading this summary.

Researchers conducted an online survey of 1,554 adults during May and June of last year. One-third of participants were classified as social casino gamers. While there were no dramatic gender differences, social casino gamers tended to be younger, less likely to be married but more likely to be living in a common law relationship, morel likely to be fully employed and (interestingly) more likely to speak a language other than English in the home.

The study found a “very high overlap” between gamblers and social casino gamers, suggesting “an underlying interest in gambling-themed activities” drove both activities. This assertion might be questioned by some real-money gambling operators who found out to their cost that social gamers and real-money gamblers are generally two distinct tribes with very little crossover.

Real-money online casino gambling isn’t currently permitted in Australia. Asked how legal online casinos would affect their social casino play, 64% of gamers said their social play would stay the same, 26% said it would decrease, while slightly more than 10% said it would increase.

Asked how keen they’d be to partake in legal real-money online casino play, 64% said they were not at all likely to do so, while 30% said they’d be somewhat likely and 6% said they were very likely. Asked whether they’d be interested in wagering real money via their fave social casino game, 69% said they weren’t interested, 28.4% said they’d be somewhat interested and 2.7% were very interested.

A cynical 57% of players believe social casino operators encourage their players to try real-money gambling, while just 14% disagreed with that statement.

Despite the alleged efforts of social casino operators, over 61% of respondents said social casino play had no influence on their desire to gamble for money while 66% reported it had no effect on their actual gambling activity. Just 17% reported engaging in more real-money gambling as a result of their social casino activity.

Meanwhile, 14% reported migrating in the other direction, i.e. from real-money to social play, primarily in order to get the same experience without spending any money or because they found the social games more fun than the real-money option.

Of the social casino gamers who also participated in real-money gambling, half said the experience of winning was similar in both social and real-money form. Younger adults were significantly more likely to agree with the statement that playing social casino games was “just as much fun as gambling for money.”

Interestingly, those higher up on the problem gambling severity scale were more likely to report a similar or superior thrill from a social casino win than from a real-money win. Anecdotal evidence from a separate gambling study currently underway also suggests social casinos could play a role in weaning problem gamblers off Australia’s ubiquitous pokies by satisfying the same urges in a cost-free environment.

A majority (55.7%) of participants reported engaging in only one social casino game session per day, while 26% pushed that to two or three sessions. A mere 2.5% played more than 10 times per day. Nearly three-quarters of players spent less than half an hour per day, while a hardcore 3.3% played over two hours.

Nearly three-quarters of social casino players reported purchasing virtual credits in the past year, with the vast majority of them spending less than $20 per occasion. Most spenders reported buying credits on only one or two different games. A suspiciously high 10% of spenders claimed that they didn’t know they were spending money when making their purchases.

Facebook was the dominant (51.4%) platform for playing social casino games, followed by the game’s own website (22.5%), Android apps (17.5%), iOS apps (15.9%), the late Google+ (13.2%) and Windows apps (8.6%).

Laptops were the most common game-playing device at 53.4%, followed by desktop computers (46.4%), smartphones (31.3%), tablets (22.5%) and game consoles (2.9%).

Zynga’s poker product was the preferred game at 21.9%, followed by Lucky Slots (17.9%), Bingo Bash (17.1%), Slotomania (15%), ‘other’ (12.1%), Bingo Blitz (11.1%), Bingo Blingo (10.9%), DoubleDown Casino (10.6%) and Slot City Casino (10.4%) as the only titles with double-digit scores.

Around 91% of social casino users reported engaging in some form of real-money gambling activity in the previous 12 months compared to 64% who didn’t play social casino games. (It should be noted that Australians lead the world in gambling activity.)

As might be expected, the study found that social casino games could potentially encourage increased gambling in a minority of problem gamblers – who, as numerous studies have amply demonstrated, tend to have problems that go far beyond gambling – but the games had no impact on gambling behavior for the majority of participants.