More women are new to online gambling since the start of the pandemic, according to a study led by Concordia social science professor Sylvia Kairouz. It’s a phenomenon that merits further research, she says.
Annie Claude Savard of Université Laval also collaborated on the 2021 study, which investigated the behavior of 4,500 Quebec gamblers. It revealed more women than men began gambling online or migrated from retail to online gambling during the pandemic. However, overall more men reported gambling activity.
That is, there are still more men than women gambling online, but the number of women is growing faster. Or it was in Quebec in 2021, at least.
Kairouz, who holds Concordia’s research chair on gambling, explained:
While gambling has generally been associated with men, women are not immune to addiction due to problematic habits.
Women Gravitate to Games of Chance, Men Seek an Element of Skill
Over approximately 100 interviews, the researchers noted distinct differences between women’s and men’s gambling habits.
Of particular interest were gendered gambling preferences, said Kairouz:
Women end up with games of chance, while men are more likely to play poker and table games. By making these choices and having these tastes, the risk is much greater for women.
(Editor’s Note: Skill-based games are not necessarily any safer than games of chance. Sports betting and poker both see high gambling addiction rates, and the perception that the game can be beaten can be a contributing factor.)
According to the research, women regularly use chance games (slot machines, scratch tickets and lotto) to relax and escape reality. They also tend to gravitate to longer games with lower stakes.
Conversely, men’s gambling habits are often more thrill-seeking, involving sports betting, poker, and skill-based table games.
Anne Elizabeth Lapointe says women seek distraction and calm more than anything else.
Lapointe is the executive director of the addictions treatment and prevention center Maison Jean Lapointe in Montreal.
Lapointe told CTV Montreal:
They will often say to us: ‘we feel a bit hypnotized when we play. We take our minds off things and relax.’ That’s why scratchers — especially long scratchers — and slot machines, women like it a lot.
Women More Likely to Avoid Help for Addictions
Findings from another study released in 2022 appear to back the new research.
That study also showed 2% of men and nearly 1% of women who gambled in the last year had a moderate to high risk for addiction. Altogether, that’s approximately 304,000 Canadians.
Lapointe is concerned about the impact stigma has on women, in particular.
“Women often seek less help than men in terms of addiction,” she said.
There is still a lot of stigma attached to them, even though they are clearly targeted by the industry, whether it’s alcohol or anything else. What stops women is a lot of shame and guilt.
In Kairouz’s case, she’s concerned women are still underrepresented in research, despite the narrowing gender gap. As a result, the results are often generalized.
The professor believes female addictions need to become the focus of future studies:
The data, if you don’t distinguish between women and men, is much more reflective of the male reality… We know that women’s reality is totally different: the meaning they give to gambling and the function of escape and compensation in their lives are much more present.
To that end, data collection will resume between April and September, providing a more in-depth view of the long-term reality.
“This is really one of my research areas, the relationship between gender and play,” said Kairouz.
We will be able to observe the trajectories of the participants and whether they are the same for men and women. The gender dimension is going to be extremely important.
Large Increase in Overall Online Gambling Population
In addition to the gender-based findings, the report revealed a big jump in total online gamblers. This same trend can be found in other data, such as problem gambling call numbers and self-exclusions.
The findings showed that the number of visits, time, and money spent on sites also increased. Additionally, more self-reported risk behavior followed the gambling increases, said Kairouz.
We see 10 times as many people who gambled online reporting gambling-related issues, from 1.6 percent in 2018 to around 16 percent in 2021.
Interestingly, most gamblers reported their gambling activities remained flat through year 1 of the pandemic. However, nearly a third said they gambled more, while 13% claimed they played less.
Worryingly, those who reported an increase said extra free time, loneliness and isolation, and inability to buy physical lotto tickets as reasons for the jump. Even worse, 20% blamed the additional wagers on needing money.
Of the gamblers that responded, 10-30% blamed the pandemic for their boosted gambling, depending on the activity in question. That cohort included offline gamblers who pivoted online as bars and casinos closed.
Kairouz is especially concerned about the increased popularity of online slots for real money, which she considers particularly risky.
Researchers Recommend Quebec Licence and Regulate Online Operators
Researchers also noted responsible gambling services are underused.
While roughly 40% of active gamblers know about problem gambling supports, only 2.4% of respondents admitted asking for help. However, the good news is experienced players were nearly twice as likely to reach out than newbies.
That highlights an opportunity to ensure more players, particularly new ones, are aware of the help available.
Lastly, the report examined the rapid increase in online gambling advertising in Canada. It concluded the country needs more robust regulations to combat the reach.
Researchers even went as far as to recommend the Quebec government create a system of licenses. Ostensibly, this would be similar to recent changes in Ontario.
“There is a push from operators and gambling providers towards sports betting because regulations in Canada have changed,” said Kairouz.
Players can now bet on many more aspects than just the outcome of a certain game, so it opens the markets by creating needs and more opportunities to win.
Operators have the interest and the means to respect the conditions that are imposed on them, including player protection.