New research from Australia shows an increase in risk-taking by young people lured into Internet gambling sites through “free-play” or “practice” modes.
The study, by University of Adelaide psychology student Tahnee Frahn, was spawned by concerns about “dubious strategies” used by online gambling sites to entice players and keep them playing longer.
“Previous research has demonstrated that ‘free-play’ or ‘practice’ modes on some Internet gaming sites provide unrealistically high returns to the players, who are encouraged with pop-up messages and emails to keep playing,” Frahn said.
“However, those high returns are not continued when playing for actual money.”
For her study, she looked at the behavior of 128 young people between the ages of 18 to 24 who were offered a free-play mode on a simulated Internet gaming site — actually a video poker machine — followed by a “real-play” mode in which they could gamble for real money.
Frahn examined the psychological effect of inflated returns and pop-up messages during practice modes on subsequent gambling behaviors, such as risk-taking and persistence.
“Two of the three groups — those who received a high return in free-play mode, and those who received this high return as well as pop-up encouragements — both bet significantly more credits per spin in the real-play mode than our control group,” she noted.
“This suggests greater risk-taking and a belief that the high returns in practice mode would continue during the real gambling phase.”
The practice modes on Internet gaming sites create the illusion that “practice makes perfect,” she continued.
“In fact, no amount of practice can make you better at chance games like poker machines — their sole purpose is to create profits, to take the players’ money.”
Frahn acknowledges that it is difficult to simulate the risk and excitement of a real-world gambling experience in a controlled setting. However, “these results help us to better understand how people respond to an Internet gambling situation,” she said.
That’s increasing important, she noted, because Internet gambling has rapidly expanded in recent years, from just 30 sites in 1994 to more than 2,200 sites in 2009.
“In general, research in this area has not kept up,” she noted. “This is a growing issue for our society and one that requires further attention, especially when you consider the issue of Internet gambling addiction.”
Source: University of Adelaide