NJ Online Gamblers May Be At Higher Risk Of Developing Gambling Problems
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Rutgers Study Tackles Problem Gambling, And The Methods NJ Online Gambling Sites Use To Combat It

Rutgers NJ online gambling responsible gaming study
An often overlooked aspect of New Jersey online gambling law is the responsible gaming policies it mandates.

Not only does the law require operators to enact a number of responsible gaming features, but each operator must kick in a portion of revenue to fund responsible gaming research and support projects.

One of those projects is an annual study and report conducted by Rutgers University’s Center for Gambling Studies. The most recent report was released this week.

Here are some of the findings, and how they compare to last year’s data.

How many people gamble online in New Jersey?

A recent study commissioned by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, titled “The Prevalence of Online and Land‐Based Gambling in New Jersey,” indicated that 5.3 percent of respondents gambled exclusively online and 19.2 percent gambled both online and at land-based venues.

This is a good sign, as it shows there is starting to be more crossover between live and online gamblers, something that was lacking when the industry first launched, evidenced by the extremely high percentage of customers registering at online gambling sites that were not in the casinos’ databases.

Problem gambling risk appears to be higher online

One troubling bit of data from this same survey indicates that online gamblers could be at a higher risk to develop problem gambling behaviors.

The Rutgers study cites the prevalence study (which has yet to be publicly released) as stating:

“… 4.5% of those who gambled only at land-based venues were in the high risk problem gambling group, which would likely meet criteria for disorder. In contrast, 14.3% of online-only and 36.9% of the mixed group were in the high risk problem group.”

One explanation for this is the preponderance of online poker players.

Professional advantage gamblers like poker players generally tick off a lot of the boxes for problem gambling behavior because of the frequency and size of their wagers, and not because they have the classic symptoms of problem gambling.

According to Rutgers data, 53,950 of the 94,255 accounts they studied played poker exclusively or played poker and some combination of casino and tournament games.

The sheer percentage of poker players online could be skewing the data a bit, and it should be made absolutely clear that “at-risk” means a score of 1-2 on the SOGS test[i], and problem gamblers are scores of 3-4 on this test. A compulsive gambler is someone who score above 5 on the SOGS test.

For example, one of the questions, “Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?” would be a resounding ‘yes’ for most anyone who plays poker for a living.

A lack of nuance in other questions often asked in problem gambling questionnaires create the same dichotomy for poker players:

  1. After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses? (That’s what being a professional poker player requires.)
  2. After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more? (Again, this is what being a professional poker player requires the person to do.)
  3. Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures? (It’s called a poker bankroll.)
  4. Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned? (If the game is good, yes.)

Account creation dips

More than 375,000 individual online gambling accounts were created in New Jersey during 2015. This is a sharp decline from the 531,626 accounts created in 2014. However, this drop in account creation comes as little surprise, as an early rush was expected, followed by a period of slower, but more consistent registrations as the market matured.

More interesting than the overall numbers is the low consummation rate among those accounts. Only 107,535 (28 percent) of the accounts created went on to play real-money online games.

According to the report, a lot of these accounts are created out of state, possibly signaling players who intend to play when they get to New Jersey, but for whatever reason, never make a deposit when they’re in the Garden State.

Another explanation could be continued payment processing issues.

The Top 10%

This year’s report spends a lot of time on the habits of the “Top 10%” of online gamblers, represented by a total of 2,959 players. A person was placed in this echelon based on three metrics:

  1. highest in total number of bets placed;
  2. total number of days gambled; and
  3. total amount of money wagered.

Not surprisingly, players in this category are older (and likely more affluent).

Somewhat surprisingly, they were more likely to be female. Even though less than a quarter of all online gamblers in New Jersey are female, more than half of the “Top 10%” were female.

People in this group were also more likely to be casino-only players — 69 percent compared to the overall average of casino-only players which stands at 43 percent.

These 3,000 or so players wagered an average of about $500,000 in 2015, with the lowest wager totaling just over $40,000 and the top wagering total an astonishing $78.75 million. The average frequency of play for this group was 158 days, far more than the typical online patron.

Based on the information, these players are the lifeblood of New Jersey’s online gambling industry, and seem to confirm the Pareto Principle, which states that 80 percent of your profits will come from 20 percent of your customers.

Responsible gaming having an impact

In 2014, the most-used responsible gaming initiative was “set deposit limit” – an option 1.3 percent of registrants (6,851 total accounts) selected. In 2015, only about 3,000 player accounts set deposit limits.

However, nearly 10,000 players self-excluded in 2015 (around 2.5 percent of the 378,103 accounts created), which is a massive increase from the 742 accounts (.14 percent) who chose to self-exclude in 2014.

The decrease in the number of players setting time, loss, and deposit limits could be due to so many players choosing to self-exclude, as some 2,000 players first used these other responsible gaming features before deciding to self-exclude.

Another reason for the decrease in the number of people setting deposit limits could be market maturity. Many of the players who chose these options in 2014 probably haven’t changed them.

Recommendations

As was the case last year, the researchers summarized their findings and made recommendations, although this year’s list of recommendations was much shorter.

This year the Rutgers researchers noted the “efficacy of the limit setting tools,” as these players had the most modest betting patterns. The researchers also noted that the current options seem to present players with a good combination of responsible gaming features from which to choose.

In 2014, the Rutgers researchers suggested the following:

  1. Incorporate RG [Responsible Gambling] sign-up and education into account sign-up.
  2. Increase branding for RG features.
  3. Require players who increase a limit or discontinue a feature, and those who exceed their $2,500 lifetime deposit limit to be redirected to the RG education link.
  4. Provide a standardized format for accessing player protection features.
  5. Label all the required features the same.
  6. Create a standardized clock that is clearly visible and place it in a standardized location on each page.

For the second year, the researchers concluded, “improving education, access, consistency, and branding might greatly increase” the percentage of people who select RG features, a number that currently stands at a very respectable 15 percent.

They also recommended adding a responsible gambling module at some point in the sign-up process and for continued usage.

I could see this being added in the form of a pop-up that appears during the depositing phase of the sign-up process, or when a player makes subsequent deposits. However, it would have to be done in a way that allowed the player to quickly bypass the module, so it doesn’t become yet another barrier that pushes players away from legal, regulated sites.

For instance, the pop-up could appear before any deposit is completed and ask if players would like to see the available responsible gambling features that would take them to the RG module, or they could click a “no thanks” button and finish their transaction. The site could even offer a “don’t ask me this again,” checkbox.

[i] SOGS is just one method of measuring problem gambling, another would be the Gambling Disorder questionnaire, which considers anyone who answers “yes” to four of the nine questions as having a gambling disorder.

Image Credit: Rutgers.edu

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Steve Ruddock
- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.