Are women really at risk from online gambling?
The past year has had its fair share of scare stories. Gambling, the rights, wrongs and the supercasinos have been reliable generators of headlines when other scandals were wearing thin. The Internet, too, is always good for a scare story. Bring the two together and the opportunities for hysteria and misinformation grow exponentially.
Nevertheless, last year generated one headline statistic that was so dramatic it must be true. They couldn't have got it so wrong, surely?
The prominent third
The facts show that one Internet gambler in three is a woman, but in peoples' minds, they constitute a very large third.
Women and gambling are perceived as a much more worrying phenomenon than men and gambling. Google 'women + gambling' and most of the sites you will find are about problem gamblers, women who have lost control, neglected their families, run up credit card debts, suicidal teenagers and the like.
Women traditionally have accounted for only a fraction of gambling in the UK. Women are also supposed to be more given to games of chance, random numbers like roulette and the lottery, while men are supposed to favour games of skill like horseracing, sports and cards.
Busting the Myths
The widely-cited figures and traditional assumptions are misleading. For a start, just as many men as women are playing random numbers games — only in Bingo do women players outnumber men. It is more a case that women have not been drawn in the same numbers to the traditional racing and sports-based gaming.
This has partly been down to a lower level of interest in the sports and activities themselves — but also to a lack of acceptable channels for placing a bet. One thing that all the female gamblers we interviewed had in common was a loathing of the High Street betting shops and their male clientele.
The internet gambling scare is also wildly overblown. Numbers currently gaming on the internet are tiny. The most recent, reliably large study available (NOP 2004) showed 2% of men and 1% of women having gambled online in the past 12 months.
A New Breed of Female Gambler
A recent Thinks Research study of women gambling on the Internet suggests that the Internet has generated and enabled a new breed of woman gambler. Her preferred game is poker which she thinks she plays better than many men. She plays for fun and the buzz of winning and demonstrating her skill. She is very controlled in her stakes — and aware of the dangers of using her credit card like Monopoly money. The Internet allows her to play without a man condescendingly breathing down her neck — or peering down her blouse. But she will often adopt a male 'identity' for playing.
She is conservative in the websites she uses – and, interestingly, finds many of the visual embellishments, come-ons and marketing tricks a turn-off.
She's dubious about the super-casinos but not because she disapproves of the gambling. It's more because casinos seem to offer a rather dated form of glamour and their locations in depressed areas
Signs are that the press is worrying far too much about the little ladies who seem a reassuringly sensible lot.
It's early days and Thinks Research is currently extending the study to other types of on-line gaming and how women are changing in their attitudes and behaviour. Watch this space!
This is an extract from Anne Ward's essay 'Lady Be Good!' in the State of the Nation 2007 anthology, published by the Association for Qualitative Research.