Sunday, February 04, 2007

Under the Microscope

Under the MicroscopeA week or so ago, a group called eCOGRA (e-Commerce and Online Gaming Regulation and Assurance) issued a “Media Summary” version of its study of online gambling. I’d seen references to the study -- called “An Exploratory Investigation into the Attitudes and Behaviors of Internet Casino and Poker Players” -- over at Calistri’s Corner and IGGY at Pokerworks (and other places). Finally got around to reading this here 17-page summary and thought I’d share a few observations about what I found there.

The specific objectives of the study, according to the authors, were (1) to learn more about the “basic dynamics of Internet poker and casino behaviour” and (2) to foster “player protection and social responsibility” in the realm of online gambling. In other words, the researchers are partly motivated by academic interests (i.e., they simply wanted to fill a gap in our understanding of online gambling and those who partake) and by practical concerns for players’ welfare. eCOGRA is a non-profit organization that independently monitors online casinos and poker rooms. They give a “seal of approval” to sites that meet certain criteria for fair gaming. Perusing their list of approved sites, I see none of my regular haunts appear on their list of poker rooms -- not sure whether that’s a reflection on the sites or on the current reach of eCOGRA as an industry-recognized certifying agency. (Probably the latter.)

In any event, their study is certainly intriguing and maybe even useful. They surveyed over 10,000 individuals who logged onto online casinos and/or poker rooms during a three-month period. They also conducted some focus groups with a much smaller group. Their findings cover a number of areas, including establishing demographics (age, sex, nationality) for players, discovering what factors motivate individuals to gamble online, developing a profile for winning players, and determining what issues and concerns were of utmost importance to those who do play.

The summary of the study includes some general observations about the differences between the internet casino scene (where folks play games like blackjack, roulette, slots, etc.) and that of internet poker. Those who play internet casino games are generally older than internet poker players. The study cites others’ speculations that older players may prefer casino games because they require less concentration, less complex decision making, and are generally less time consuming.

However, the most absorbing stuff –- for me, anyway –- concerns online poker players. I found three observations to be particularly intriguing.

Who Are the Winners?

According to the researchers, “those who reported doing financially better” playing online poker had certain characteristics in common. They were “less likely to chase losses” (something I’m trying to train myself to stop doing). They were “more likely to play at more sites” (always a good idea, in my view). They were “likely to listen to music when playing” (hey, that’s me, too). They multitabled, with four tables being the optimal number for the most successful players (no thank you). They “play with a smaller percentage of their bankroll” than do those who report losses (gotta manage them pesos). They “play to win money” (some folks play for other reasons). And they “play more frequently” than those who report losses.

Most of these findings make intuitive sense, I’d say. One observation occurs to me, though. I see nothing here that explicitly acknowledges a possible discrepancy between players “who reported doing financially better” and players who are actually winning. Elsewhere in the summary, we read that “less than a third of poker players claimed to lose money on a monthly basis.” We all know, of course, that there is no possible way for us to have more winners than losers playing online poker. I recall a CardPlayer article (I cannot track it down -- this was probably at least two years ago) in which a couple of different executives from online poker sites affirmed that only 7 or 8 percent of players on their sites actually realize any profit at all. Whatever the percentage really is, it’s pretty clear that either the 10,000+ surveyed here are either non-representative or non-truthful. (Come to think of it, when it comes to poker players, being non-truthful is representative . . . !)

The United States of Anxiety

One area of the study I found particularly interesting was the discussion about international differences and some of the attitudes that American players had about online poker that differed from what the rest of the world thinks. I found the following paragraph especially revealing:

“Among the biggest differences in terms of attitudes and beliefs was a clear distinction between the extent to which the players felt that operators engaged in unfair practice. Specifically, North American players were more likely to think ‘pokerbots’ existed online, which were operated by the sites themselves, and they were more likely to feel that the gambling sites were likely to have an ‘on/off switch which can turn the software in favour of the operator.’”

The authors proceed to suggest that Americans in particular may be prone to such paranoia because of the current legal situation here in the States: “Particularly in the context of U.S. citizens, it is understandable that more players may be concerned about operator legitimacy if they are seen to be operating in an illegal or quasi-legal industry.” An excellent observation, in my view -- something I was partially getting at in that earlier post titled “A Game of Incomplete Information.”

Lo-lo-lo-Lola a Lo-lo-lo-loser?

Apparently around 12% of players pretend to be a different sex when playing online. And, even more interestingly, those who pose as a different sex “reported having less profitable play than any other type of player.” The authors cite another study that reports playing as the opposite sex to be “the number one predictor of gambling problems when playing Internet poker.” One theory suggested here is that those who do play as a different sex likely overestimate the advantage of doing so.

I mentioned a couple of months ago how I chose a woman’s name for my ID when I signed on over at Bodog. At the other sites I play, my onscreen names are all basically sex-neutral (or so I believe), but at Bodog I thought I’d experiment. I’ve actually had a couple of memorable experiences playing as a woman already -- I’ll share next post. I do see the potential, though, for overestimating the importance of one’s onscreen name.

Curious stuff. Perhaps not as curious as that image of Shamus in drag you’re now struggling to avoid conjuring, mind you. But curious.



Blogger mftpg said...

Nice post Shamus - and I thought those guys who cried 'fiiiiixed' when they lose a 70/30 just did not understand odds!

Right, off to change my icon to a female - can't do any worse!

Cheers, Mark

2/05/2007 2:57 PM  

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