Online gambling

Concordia-led team recognized for online gambling research

Two sociology researchers from Concordia’s Faculty of Arts and Science celebrate a recent award win for a paper examining online gambling.

The Canadian Law and Society Association (CLSA) has selected “A Governmentality of Online Gambling: Contested Quebec Provisions on the Blocking of Internet Gambling Websites” for its annual prize for the best article published in its journal.

“It’s a great honor,” says Associate Professor Martin French, co-author of the paper with Concordia graduate Dani Tardif, MA 2016, Professor Sylvia Kairouz and HERMES research team member Annie- Claude Savard (associate professor, U Laval). Kairouz has held the Chair in Gambling Research at Concordia since 2012. She is also the director of the HERMES research team, which examines hybrid forms of gambling and their impacts.

French has been at Concordia since 2013 and leads a multi-year FRC-SC funded study on risk and gambling in the digital age.

The big picture

The winning article relates to the overall mission of the HERMES team as well as its upcoming projects.

“A challenge we face on the ground is the way online gambling is currently offered and the regulatory framework for online gambling,” Kairouz explains.

“It comes up repeatedly in the media, and it’s still an ongoing issue.”

The HERMES team is particularly interested in how online gaming has changed the face of gambling activity, particularly in light of broader societal changes under the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regulatory challenges posed by online betting and gaming

Gambling has changed in the digital age. “Once primarily the province of casinos, gambling is now accessible just about anywhere, anytime – this poses challenges for responsible gambling interventions, such as self-exclusion, which have been designed to regulate gambling in casinos,” says French.

And it’s not just that games of chance have escaped the casino. They also elude our traditional understanding of what should be considered gambling and, therefore, what should be regulated by federal and provincial laws.

French points out that many so-called free/pay-to-win games today incorporate gaming elements into the game.

Candy Crush Saga, he notes, is a good example. “It is not a game of chance in itself. But it has a lot of game-like retention mechanics,” he says.

“Just like a three reel slot machine encourages people to keep playing with ‘near misses’ – think of a spin where you get a cherry, a second cherry and almost a third cherry which is partially visible at the top of your screen but didn’t go down far enough for you to win – Candy Crush Saga is set up for players to gradually start at not-quite-clear levels.

“You haven’t beaten the level, but you feel like you could if you just try one more time, and with the help of this or that special booster. These near misses subtly nudge players to make in-game purchases, buy items (special boosters) that will help them move to the next level.

These retention mechanisms Candy Crush Saga “a game of quasi-game,” says French. But games like this don’t have to follow the same rules as games of chance.

In Quebec, for example, you must be over 18 to play a slot machine game. Candy Crush Sagaon the other hand, does not have an age restriction applied in the same way.

The question of how these games can or should be regulated by regulators remains unresolved. In Quebec, legislators have been concerned with a narrow legal definition of gambling, as the study by French and his colleagues shows.

He argues that they have “so far largely failed to adequately address the challenges posed by online gambling and quasi-gambling games”.

New research and a new laboratory

One way to address this problem, according to French, is to broaden the public’s understanding of gambling and quasi-gambling games.

Working in collaboration with community partners, the HERMES team has no intention of slowing down. New research will come out in the fall, and new lab space is expected to open at Concordia’s Sir George Williams Campus in the coming months.

“We are focused on conversions, or transformation, of gaming/online gaming,” Kairouz adds.

“Looking at the hybridization of the game and game worlds, we want to learn more about the positive and negative impacts of these forms of consumption.”

Learn more about the
The HERMES research team at Concordia.

Read the award-winning article, “A Governmentality of Online Gambling: Quebec’s Contested Provisions on Blocking Internet Gambling Websites.”