Effects on Gambling Behaviour of Developments in Information Technology: A Grounded Theoretical Framework

Effects on Gambling Behaviour of Developments in Information Technology: A Grounded Theoretical Framework

Adrian Parke (University of Lincoln, UK) and Mark Griffiths (Nottingham Trent University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1858-9.ch010
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The rapid growth and acceptance of online gambling is concerning to academics and clinicians in the field of pathological gambling research. This study proposes a theoretical framework that outlines the effect of technological developments in information technology (IT) on gambling behaviour. The aim of the study is to produce theoretical propositions that can be investigated empirically in future research. Grounded Theory was employed to enable a theoretical framework to conceptualise online gambling behaviour and the utility of IT in gambling behaviour. In total, eight participants were interviewed via semi-structured interviews until theoretical saturation was achieved. The theoretical framework was contrasted against existing problem gambling research. Grounded Theory has indicated that developments in IT have been a catalyst for Elevated Gambling Involvement, in terms of both participation and pre-occupation, and that this phenomenon was produced via the following behavioural constructs: Increased Outcome Control, Reduced Discipline, Expediency and Consumer Value.
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Participation in online gambling activities is increasing rapidly (Griffiths, 2010). The increase in participation in gambling has the compound accumulative effect of removing negative stigma attributed to the risk behaviour, justifying it as a socially acceptable leisure activity (LaPlante & Shaffer, 2007; Cornish, 1978). The rapid growth and acceptance of online gambling is concerning to academics and clinicians in the field of pathological gambling research (LaPlante, Kleschinsky, LaBrie, Nelson, & Shaffer, 2008a). However, this social issue is compounded by the fact that many treatment professionals and clinicians have little knowledge available about the nature and causes of disordered online gambling simply because there is a distinct lack of research on this subject. Gambling pathology is considered to be an under researched phenomenon (Meyer, Hayer, & Griffiths, 2009; Shaffer, Peller, LaPlante, Nelson, & LaBrie, 2010). It is highly probable that what is accepted knowledge from pathological gambling research will not necessarily be directly applicable to online gambling.

Online gambling comprises radically variant environmental and structural characteristics compared to the traditional modes of gambling that current etiological knowledge is based on. Currently, online gambling is still conceptualised in accordance with theory relating to offline gambling behaviour. Furthermore, research has been directed towards developing harm minimisation strategies for online gambling on the assumption that the risk factors involved for developing a pathological gambling disorder online is identical to risk factors involved offline. There is potential for focusing on responsible gambling strategies that are not online gambling specific. Put simply, there is potential for missing the risk factors for development of pathological gambling unique to online gambling if the gambling studies field relies solely on existing offline research without understanding the complexity of cognitive and behavioural processes existent within online gambling. According to Shaffer et al. (2010) “Many of the policy development efforts rely on professional opinions and/or conventional wisdoms related to gambling generally, and internet gambling, specifically” (p. 271).

To date, only a handful of peer-reviewed studies are available that focus specifically on online gambling. Shaffer et al. (2010) conducted a literature search for internet gambling research that yielded only 30 studies that had internet gambling as the focus. Within these 30 studies the majority were simply commentaries (20) and the remaining studies were based on self-report rather than empirical behavioural data. The self-report studies were further limited through a lack of representativeness via self-selected samples and low response rates. As Baumeister, Vohs, and Funder (2007) demonstrated, self-report data is often incongruent with observed behavioural data. With this in mind, exclusively using self-report evidence to determine internet gambling social and health policy in the absence of behavioural data is imprudent.

In the literature review Shaffer et al. (2010) omitted the two empirical studies that provided actual behavioural data. Perhaps the most pertinent conclusion in the longitudinal behavioural study of internet sports wagering was that the participants demonstrated an adaptation to the behaviour (LaPlante, Schumann, LaBrie, & Shaffer, 2008b). Put simply, gambling behaviour decreased over time; with a particular decline observed within the first 90 days of initially gambling within that specific betting account. With reference to this finding LaPlante et al. (2008b) concluded that assumptions that internet gambling will stimulate excessive patterns of gambling were erroneous. However, research has also demonstrated that online gamblers bet across several different betting accounts and on different gambling activities (i.e., not just sports wagering) simultaneously (Parke, 2008; Parke, Rigbye, Parke, & Vaughan-Williams, 2007). Moreover, it is common for internet sports bettors to switch betting accounts frequently to maximise introductory and loyalty promotional bonuses (Parke, 2008; Parke et al., 2007), and therefore one would anticipate marked changes in betting participation on a singular account.

The other internet gambling study that used behavioural data has provided valuable cohort characteristics and epidemiology specifically for online poker gambling. LaPlante et al. (2008a) observed that the vast majority of online poker gamblers were male, but that the female poker gamblers did not differ significantly to males except for gambling for shorter durations. The study also demonstrated that, while excluding the most involved poker gamblers (the top 5% in terms of participation), as the percentage of loss increased, duration and frequency of poker gambling also decreased. This suggested that online poker gamblers demonstrated rational betting behaviour (LaPlante et al., 2008a) and are therefore less at-risk of developing a gambling disorder. It can be argued however, that given the similarity between the diagnostic criteria of problem gambling (such as betting frequency, for example) and the excluded ‘most involved poker players’ cohort, one would expect most at-risk participants to fall into this excluded cohort.

It is evident that a comprehensive and robust knowledge and understanding base for online gambling is currently not available; providing impetus for initiation of a Grounded Theory study. In fact, the absence of an expansive literature base may be ideal for such a research approach as Glaser (2004) outlined that it is critical to avoid a detailed literature review before the emergence of a core category in Grounded Theory. Furthermore, “To undertake an extensive review of the literature… also runs the risk of clouding the researcher’s ability to remain open to the emergence of a completely new core category that has not figured prominently in the research to date thereby thwarting the theoretical sensitivity” (Glaser, 2004, p. 12). Moreover, with specific reference to internet gambling, it appears that reviewing past literature that is either based on conjecture, or has a substantially limited research design in terms of representativeness and accuracy, may generate erroneous pre-conceptions about the research topic under investigation.

In summary, an obvious limitation in the development of a long-term research program that aims to outline the cognitive and behavioural processes inherent in online gambling, is the challenge of proposing theoretical hypotheses to be tested. Therefore, the first step of developing an understanding of online gambling, and potential risk factors for pathological gambling disorder, is to generate theory grounded in data that can outline future research directions in terms of identifying research priorities.

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