Study: Online Poker May Be Safer Than Slots for Gamblers

Researchers found online poker was played weekly by 18% of UK gamblers. Online slots were played at just 10% but carried a higher risk for gambling harm.
Study: Online Poker May Be Safer Than Slots for Gamblers
July 27, 2023

A recent study found that online poker, as a product, appears to pose less of a risk of gambling harm than other products — especially when compared to other products like online slots and sports betting.

That’s just one of the findings in a 19-page report, Behavioral Markers of Harm and Their Potential in Identifying Product Risk in Online Gambling, published earlier this year in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction (IJMHA). Paul Delfabbro, a psychology professor from the University of Adelaide in Australia, led the study.

Researchers used anonymized data provided by Unibet from the first six months of 2022 for the study. Its participants were 100,000 individual gamblers in the UK who had spent money on at least one gambling product during that timeframe.

After sorting the data into three general product types — casino, racing, and sports — researchers broke the data down further by the timing of some bets (in-play or pre-event) and whether or not the games were live. Poker was among the casino games listed.

The total amount spent by gamblers and an individual’s behavioral markers were also studied. For the latter, markers of harm included how often a participant made deposits, the number of hours spent gambling online but during unusual hours, and other factors.

Researchers then took into consideration how often a participant gambled during the six-month period and used it to calculate a weekly participation rate. They found that the most popular products during the six months were slots (with a 49.8% participation rate), followed by single bets on racing (41.6%) and single pre-event sports wagers (31.4%). Online poker was near the bottom at 3.8%.

“All analyses were conducted using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) correlations to examine the ordinal association between the frequency of gambling based on the total active days for each product category and subcategory and the frequency of the markers of harm,” the researchers said.

But the weekly conversion rate, an indicator of how often certain products are played with regularity, showed online poker was being played by 18% of respondents on a weekly basis. Slots ranked second by that metric at 10%.

“Slots, in particular, stand out from other products by having the highest overall and weekly participation rate suggesting slots are the source of the highest absolute number of regular gamblers.” The researchers added that net revenue and net loss “both show that losses tended to be highest for slots and combination bets on racing, but the figures for other products are more difficult to rank.”

They added that they had found “that some types of long-shot, accumulator bets — sharing some characteristics similar to a lottery ticket — pose less risk, whereas combination bets, which involve different permutations of outcomes of the same selection of bets, which increase the probability of a win, at a greater financial cost, appear to pose a greater risk.

“This suggests that studies of behavior or real-time tracking methodologies may have the potential to profile riskier products that emerge in the market so that responsible gambling measures can be more carefully targeted to those products or the people who have a high level of engagement in those products.”

The researchers added that regulators and operators would likely both benefit “from ongoing research in this area as the popularity and accessibility of online gambling options continue to increase.”

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