In Excess

Gambling, Gaming and Extreme Behavior

Faking Liberties

Online gambling, testimonials, and the psychology of persuasion

One of the most interesting psychological ploys used by some online gambling operators is the use of ‘bogus’ players and their testimonials. This appears to be a common practice used by some of the industry to generate hype about their sites. People are ‘disguised’ as unbiased players who then rave about particular online gambling sites in online player forums.

There has been a lot of psychological research under what circumstances information like this is taken on board or disregarded. There is a long established theory that has highlighted the most effective way of getting a message across. Most importantly, the information source needs to be credible (the important features of credibility being expertise and trustworthiness).

Identifying yourself as an “online gambler” means that you are more likely to treat someone else that is part of your ‘in group’ as trustworthy. Psychologists have highlighted that source credibility in this situation can be effective for two reasons. The first is that it leads to the processing of information in a half-mindless state - either because the person is not motivated to think, don't have the time to consider, or lack the abilities to understand the issues. Secondly, source credibility can stop questioning ("if other punters think it’s a good site, then it must be alright").

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Psychological research has also shown that successful persuasive messages should be short, clear, direct and one-sided for receptive audiences. (Two-sided arguments should be used if the audience is likely to be unsympathetic to the message). The message must be explicit rather than letting the audience draw their own conclusions (although for informed audiences it can be equally, if not more effective, to draw their own conclusions).

Finally, the message should be colourful and vivid rather than full of technical terms and statistics. In short, the use of psychological research on communication to underpin marketing strategies, the online gaming industry generates mass emails and instant messages with typical claims like "I just found the greatest online casino on the Net. You should check it out ". Obviously if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

Obviously online gambling companies are operating in a highly competitive market and almost every marketing tactic is employed to increase market share. However, the strategies used should be socially responsible and be fair to players. In the long run, online gamblers will give repeat business to those that they trust, and those companies are likely to be the ones who are the most socially responsible.

Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit in the Psychology Division at Nottingham Trent University (UK).

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