Problem Online Gambling In New Jersey: Rutgers Releases New Study

Rutgers Center for Gambling Studies has released the results of a study focused on problem gambling in New Jersey and the measures state regulated online gambling sites are taking to prevent it.

The study, entitled “Internet Gaming in New Jersey,” is part of a mandated responsible gaming initiative, funded by tax revenue generated by online operators. It marked the second consecutive year the study was conducted.

Account creation declines moderately

The report cites that in 2015, 378,103 individuals signed up for online gambling accounts in New Jersey, compared to 531,626 during 2014.

Although that may seem like an alarming drop-off, it isn’t unexpected, as the launch of the market in late 2013 brought with it an initial rush of signups. That early frenzy extended into the early months of the following year.

Taken in context, a dip of just 29 percent suggests that recent marketing initiatives have been successful in drawing a steady stream of new players to NJ online gambling sites.

Of the new registrants, a mere 107,535 (28 percent) players actually participated in games. This vast discrepancy between signups and actives is also not a wholly unexpected result, as a proportion of accounts were created from other states and countries, from which players can register for, but not play on, NJ regulated sites.

Continued issues on the payment processing front may have also factored in.

Of the registrants who did place wagers, 79,682 (74 percent) gambled on casino sites, with the highest representation among the 25-34 male demographic. Nearly 6.6 percent of these casino players listed their residence as outside of New Jersey.

More surprising, is that 69 percent of individuals who signed up for NJ online gambling in 2015, only registered one account. Just 12 percent had three accounts or more. New Jersey has a wide variety of online casino options, including Golden Nugget, Tropicana, and Mohegan Sun, among others.

The study offers no explanation as to why the distribution lies how it does, although one can presume that the strong ties between land-based and online casinos in New Jersey resulted in brand loyalty playing a significant role.

Responsible gaming features proving effective

Operator efforts to highlight their mandated responsible gaming options are not going unnoticed by patrons. According to the study, “a total of 13,422 gamblers used responsible gaming features,” representing 14.23 percent of gamblers.

Those in the 25-34 age demographic were far more prone to impose some sort of limitation on themselves, with a whopping 31.2 percent taking advantage of at least one responsible gaming feature. Usage was also high among the 35-44 (23.2 percent) and 45-54 (19.8 percent) age demographics.

Women were far more likely to restrict their play than men. As per the study:

Only 23% of online gamblers were women. However, 40% of RG users were women, indicating that 25% of women gamblers used RG features. In contrast, men made up 77% of all online gamblers but just 60% of those who used RG features; therefore, only 14% of men chose any form of limit-setting.

The responsible gaming measures available to players typically include:

  • Deposit limits (daily, weekly, monthly)
  • Loss limits
  • Time limits
  • Cool-off periods
  • Self-exclusion (1 or 5 years)

Of these, self-exclusion was the most popular. It’s also by far the most drastic measure, as a player who self-excludes from one site is automatically barred from participating in any NJ online gambling activity for a period of at least one year.

The study reveals that just under 10,000 players have self-excluded, and that a significant portion (~17 percent) utilized other responsible gaming vehicles (most commonly cool-offs) before opting to forbid themselves from playing.

By contrast, in 2014 deposit limits were the most popular RG feature harnessed, with 1.3 percent of players (6,851 total accounts) restricting the amount they could load on to a gambling site. The tables turned in 2015, when deposit limits were less than one-third as prevalent (3,085 players) as self-exclusions.

One plausible explanation for the changeover is that a proportion of players who imposed deposit limits in 2014 graduated to more severe measures by the following year.

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Is problem gambling a bigger issue among online players?

The Rutgers study cites other reports, that claim problem gambling is more prevalent among online gamblers than those who only visit land-based venues.

According to a state-wide prevalence study, just 4.5 percent of land-based casino goers qualify as high-risk problem gamblers, as opposed to 14.3 percent of online-only players and 36.9 percent of players who frequent both online sites and land-based casinos.

On paper, it’s easy to see how some of the primary benefits of online gambling, listed as convenience, round-the-clock access, and comfort by the study, could also lead players down a slippery slope.

Yet, the high prevalence of at-risk mixed group gamblers versus online-only players suggests that online gambling is more an alternative medium for the problem gambler, and not necessarily a catalyst.

Going further, the study may be unjustifiably classifying online players as problem gamblers.

In a column for Online Poker Report, Steve Ruddock suggests that the data could be skewed by the abundance of online poker players and other professional advantage gamblers that “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.”

And even if online gamblers are truly more prone to developing problems, the number of responsible gambling tools available and the ease of their use make it so at-risk gamblers are just a few clicks away from curtailing the frequency and/or the depth of their play.

The same cannot be said about high-risk gamblers who frequent land-based casinos, where:

  • Players can choose not to have their play tracked;
  • Problem gamblers must go through an exhaustive process in order to self-exclude;
  • Minors can more easily gain access;
  • Stakes are generally much higher compared to online.

Suggestions for the future

As part of its report, Rutgers offers several suggestions for the future, that will serve to further strengthen the NJ online gambling industry’s responsible gaming initiatives.

A couple of highlights:

  • As it said in 2014, Rutgers recommends improving responsible gaming “education, access, consistency, and branding.” It is indicated that players who are aware of and use responsible gaming tools before they begin gambling possess the “most modest play patterns of any group.”
  • Along the same lines, Rutgers suggests including responsible gambling “as part of registration for a player account and for continued usage for existing players,” thereby forcing players to at least acknowledge RG before making a first deposit.

The common thread here is awareness. As per Rutgers, placing RG features right where players can’t miss them will “likely increase the number of players who try various features and would also ensure they are fully informed about the range of options.”

About the Author

Robert DellaFave

Robert DellaFave is involved in the legal New Jersey online gambling industry in a number of ways. Not only does he contribute to a variety of online gambling publications focused on regulated US online poker and online casino sites, he is also a game designer.