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The market for online gambling is considered among the fastest growing industries. Taking online poker in particular, its sector is the fastest growing among online gambling, which value is estimated to be $ billion in 2011 (McMullan and Kervin). The rapid growth of gambling sites online from 30 sites in 1994 to 2,296 sites in 2009 represents not only the development of internet as a technology, changes in consumer behaviour, and subsequently the changes in the marketing strategies used to promote such industry. A typical description of a consumer of online gambling website is mostly based on various surveys on the web, in which common characteristics can be identified such as:
- Prevalence of men, where “men are more likely than women to be online gamblers” (Griffiths, Wood and Parke).
- Less people gamble everyday than those gambling a few times a week.
- More likely to be aged 18-34 (Griffiths, Parke, et al.).
Other characteristics, specifically connected to the UK o0nline gambling market, can be derived from the 2007 British Gambling Prevalence Survey. The results of such survey add to the aforementioned characteristics such aspects as being single, well educated, and being in professional/managerial employment (Griffiths, Wardle, et al. 199).
For online poker specifically, the characteristics of consumers can be seen a little bit more specified, especially by student communities, which indicate that the majority of student consumers participate at least twice a week, one fifth of which were identified as problem gamblers (Griffiths, Parke, et al.). The success of the online poker, among other gambling sites, is attributed to several reasons, which can be used to explain typical consumer behaviour in that matter. The latter includes the ability to play for low stakes, the ability to learn for free, and even the anecdotal tendency to switch genders in avatars while playing (Griffiths, Parke, et al.). Generally, it can be stated that despite the popularity of online poke, there is a deficit in empirical researchers on typical consumer behaviour.
The main marketing techniques currently used to promote and advertise online poker can be seen through the websites themselves. Thus, the poker site is used as an instrument of promotion, where texts and colour schemes were advertising the activity of playing poker as “pleasurable consumption that was arousing and challenging” (McMullan and Kervin). Additionally, the marketing messages conveyed within the advertisements, position gambling activities in a way that counters the legal opposition placed in some jurisdictions. Online poker in particular, is marketed as a sport, where the many poker tournaments broad casted on television might serve as a medium for promotion at the same time.
In order to provide a sport-like feel for such service, sponsorship of the various sporting events and the use of famous celebrities is one of the marketing means. The celebrities used are not necessarily related to poker, where the example for using Phil Tufnell, a cricket star, to promote Party casino website, was used to promote the transgender appeal of the website (Parsons). The use of celebrities was used only by major websites, which are capable to reach a wider audience (McMullan and Kervin), but nevertheless, it is argued that celebrities are a major factor for the increasing growth of online poker.
Additionally, one of the aspects that were helpful in positioning online poker as a sport, as opposed to other online gambling activities, is the use of websites as educational means. Offering to teach consumers to play those websites offered tutorials, instructional videos, free play programs, online dictionaries and glossaries, and other (Miller and Washington). Nevertheless, there were also messages conveyed within the marketing the facilitated customers’ attraction and further addiction. The latter can be seen through the various incentives and promotion sales, reward loyalty programs, and affiliate programs, as well as images promoting enormous economic gains, jackpots, and the presentation of playing as an additional mean of income. These messages were also put in attractive presentation focusing on imagery of success combined with sexual images.
Another aspect in the current practices in marketing online poker can be seen through the utilisation of the social capabilities of the internet. The introduction of web 2.0 marked another stage of the development of internet, one of the achievements of which is social networks. In that regard, the utilisation of social networks in promotion is one of the practices in promoting online poker. Pokerfacebook is one example utilising an analogy to the famous social network and operating in similar principles (iMedia). In such websites the focus on content is of major importance, as it can be seen through the example of Gambling.com, a hub for gamblers originally designed as a search engine that was redesigned as an online magazine. Being redesigned as an online magazine, “offering gamblers advice on sports, casino games and poker… [as well as] content such as sports news and videos”, the magazine serves as a channel for advertisements, driving customers to different gambling websites.
Previous Marketing Strategies
Analyzing the marketing strategies for gambling in general, it can be stated that there are several patterns that can be identified. First of all, it should be mentioned that the nature of gambling itself was a little bit different. In online gambling, the bandwidth of internet channels did not allow too much interactivity in terms of gaming. Additionally, there was a limited supply, as opposed to increasing demand. Accordingly, less emphasis is put on poker as online gambling. The term gambling is mostly used in conjunction with such activities as “sports betting, the pools, bingo, gaming machines, casinos, scratch cards and lotteries” (Brindley). It can be seen that poker can be applied to only one type of the aforementioned activities which is casino. The vague and largely unknown legal position towards online gambling was also a contributing factor. For example, in the US where online gambling is considered illegal, a 2005 survey found out that “there is confusion among online gamblers about the legality of what they’re doing… [where] [f]ewer than one in five (19%) online gamblers realize – or are willing to admit – that online gambling is currently illegal in the United States (Miller and Washington 56-57). In UK, the launch of the national lottery on the internet, the market considerably expanded, opening new channels of distribution for gambling services (Brindley).
If forming the marketing mix at that time, it can be stated that it is the same mix as with conventional gambling, only with new channels of distribution offered. With customers being at the stage of getting acquainted with the technology, the providers of the service were yet to recognize the potential of such medium, and the amount of educational efforts required for the customer to acknowledge such delivery mechanisms. The new channels of delivery, in that regard, were used to emphasize that the services can be accessed from the comfort of one’s home, being playable 24 hours a day (Brindley). One difference of the positioning can be seen through the emphasis put on customizability of the gambling, i.e. promoting gambling that suit the needs of the consumer and his/her personal preferences; when to play, what to play, what to put on stake, etc. The capabilities of the internet were only emphasizing the delivery, rather than the ability to create the content, while ion other aspects it can was stated to be a “classic marketing case study” (Brindley). With positioning and place determined, the promotion of online gambling used methods, among which were pop-up pages, placed banners, link farms, etc (Fox).
Responsible Internet Gambling
The current practices in marketing indicate the need for increasing the marketing for responsible gambling, which partially can be witnessed online. The term responsible gambling can be used to coin the initiatives that promote self-governance and social concerns when promoting such online practices. The researches support that a large part of the online gambling participants found online can be characterized as problem gamblers. Problem gamblers, in that regard, can be characterized by undisciplined spending of budget and longer frequency and duration of playing (Griffiths, Parke, et al.). The regulation of such activity varies between a prohibition, e.g. the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act in the US, and a regulatory regime in the United Kingdom through the Gambling Act 2005 (Hamilton and Rogers). The European jurisdiction provided a regulation that can be characterized between the US and UK regulations. The success of those regulations can be seen ambiguously, where on the one hand, the scale and the borderless nature of internet do not allow full control. On the other hand, such regulations are concerned mostly with the financial aspects of online gambling, rather than with the social. Thus, other tools might be needed to enforce responsible gambling techniques.
On example of such tools can be seen though the use of pop-up messages that will encourage self-awareness and effectively increase responsible gambling (Monaghan 202). As opposed to other regulatory techniques such as putting limits on deposits, showing the time, and displaying addiction warning messages, “pop-up messages have been shown to effectively communicate information” (Monaghan 204). Another strategy that can promote social responsibility in online gambling can be seen through such tool as PlayScan, a responsibility tool PlayScan designed by the Swedish gaming company Svenska Spel. Such tool allows players to implement different social responsibility control such as “personal gaming budgets, self-diagnostic tests of gambling habits, self-exclusion options” (Griffiths, Wood and Parke 413). The investigation of such tool through an empirical study found out that more than half of the respondent s who used it found it useful.
It can be concluded that despite the changes that occurred in the nature of online gambling and its marketing strategies, there are still problematic areas in such field. The marketing strategies of online gambling, namely online poker, have shifted toward the promotion of such activity as sport, utilising the social capabilities of the internet, and providing educational materials. Nevertheless, there are still many problem gamblers, which indicate the need for more social responsible online gambling tools. Among the tools recommended to be used, online pop-up messages and the Swedish PlayScan can be seen as good examples.
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